Maritimers who opened their homes to stranded strangers remember 9/11
DARTMOUTH, N.S. -- As Bessie Boudreau sifts through a folder of photos, cards, and letters, she recalls those five days in September 2001, when she opened her Dartmouth home to eight strangers from all over the world.
"A man and his wife and a child from Germany," she explains, "the other couple and their two children were from New York, and there was a gentleman from Italy who was elderly."
They were among the thousands who ended up at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001 after their journeys were grounded mid-flight after the terror attacks in the United States.
The suicide attacks by militants connected with al-Qaida killed 3,000 people, after four planes were hijacked and flown into U.S. targets, including the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Eight thousand air passengers ended up in Nova Scotia, and Boudreau was among the hundreds who volunteered to make room in their homes to give them a place to stay.
Long before the days of online news, Boudreau recalls the passengers didn’t truly understand what had happened until they watched the television news at her house.
"They were just devastated of course -- as we all were."
Over the past two decades, the children who stayed with Boudreau are all grown up.
The elderly Italian man has also since passed away.
But the families have all kept in touch, sending letters and holiday cards.
Boudreau even visited the family from New York and remembers being taken to the office where the husband worked.
"And he had told everybody that we were coming," she recalls, "and we came into his office and they had like a standing ovation for us when we came in, which was nice."
Another Nova Scotian went above and beyond to give one family an unforgettable experience while staying with her in Lower Sackville.
"The couple was actually on their way to Vegas to get married," remembers Leah Quann.
They also had other family members travelling from the United Kingdom with them too -- making a total of 12 people.
Half of them stayed with Quann and the rest with a neighbour.
When it became clear they would all be grounded for a while, Quann and the community pulled off a one-of-a kind backyard wedding for the couple.
"In two days!" Quann laughs.
That wedding took place Sept. 16, 2001, and including RCMP officers in red serge, Red Cross volunteers among the guests, and a wedding cake that looked like a Canadian flag.
Everything was donated by community members and local businesses, from the dresses to the food.
For Quann, it was a feat well worth the effort.
"To be able to get married and have that kind of support from a whole bunch of people that they didn't know and just to come together like that to make something good happen out of something horrible."
The happy couple and their relatives ended up staying in Nova Scotia for two weeks.
Quann was planning to visit them last year, but COVID has prevented the trip.
Both she and Boudreau say it was important to them to do what they could to help, during a traumatic time.
"If I was in that situation, I would want someone to help out," says Quann. "I think it made them feel like at least they had people looking out for them."