On Saturday, October 29th, the cast of the soon-to-hit-Broadway musical, Come From Away, graced the stage of the Steele Community Center in Gander, Newfoundland. Nearly half the population of Gander – 5,000 people – watched Canadian playwrights Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s story of their tiny Canadian town’s role in hosting 38 grounded planes, carrying 6,700 passengers, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Gander, Newfoundland has a history that is inextricable from its ties to human flight, so much so that most of the major streets are named after famous aviators. Gander International Airport, built as a stopover point for planes to refuel on their way to join the conflicts leading up to World War II, has always been the heart of Gander. The town was quite literally founded around that airport, not even incorporating as a city until 1958, after the war was over.
It is unsurprising, then, that a town whose entire existence is built upon the need for travelers to have a safe waypoint on their journey would be a hospitable place.
But on September 11, 2001, the world saw the incredible depths of just how deep that hospitality went. The town went out of it’s way to accommodate the travelers. It’s a story that has been used as a modern-day parable for hospitality and the magnitude of human kindness. Their generosity has been memorialized in book, movie, and radio play form. Lufthansa even named one of the planes in their fleet after Gander and the city of Halifax in honor of their kindness.
To the residents of Gander, however, it never seemed like such a big deal. ““Some people dropped in for a bucket-o’-tea and a biccy,” Oz Fudge, a local constable, said in an article for the New York Times. “What’s the big deal?”