Simanaitis Says

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THIS JUST IN (Well, not really….): Sensing a crying need, the people of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, have organized flights of compassionate folks to Florida and Texas. 

Some say it would reflect this Canadian town’s response two decades ago to the plight of passengers whose flights were grounded unexpectedly after 9/11. Here are tidbits about this Newfoundland town, evidence of its abundance of compassionate people, and also of the Canadian musical, Come From Away.

Gander in Aviation History. As noted in Wikipedia, the town of Gander “was chosen for the construction of an airport in 1935 because it is very close to the great circle route between New York and London.” Indeed, Lindbergh overflew St. John’s, Newfoundland, on his epic New York/Paris flight in 1927. And in 1919, Alcock and Brown’s Vimy initiated the world’s first transatlantic flight from St. John’s (at the tip of Newfoundland, 130 miles southeast of Gander).

This and the following images from The Daily Mail, December 24, 2021.

“During the Second World War,” Wikipedia continues, “as many as 10,000 Canadian, British and American military personnel resided in Gander. The area became a strategic post for the Air Ferry Command of the Royal Air Force, with approximately 20,000 American- and Canadian-built fighters and bombers stopping at Gander en route to Europe.”

Wikipedia observes, “After the Second World War, the town grew as the airport was used as a refuelling stop for transatlantic flights, earning its name ‘Cross-roads of the world.’ ” The range of modern jets handles transatlantic flights with no problem. Today, Gander has a population of 11,880, and, according to Wikipedia, “continues to pursue business opportunities in the aerospace industry.”

Compassion Countering Horror. Following the 9/11 attacks, with the exception of military, police, and medical flights, U.S. and Canadian airspace was closed. Incoming international flights from Europe were diverted to the Canadian Maritime, including Gander. Civilian air traffic began to resume on September 13, with a backlog of delayed passengers taking several days to clear. 

During this time, Canada initiated Operation Yellow Ribbon. As part of this, Gander International took in 38 wide-body aircraft, most headed to U.S. destinations with some 6600 passengers and crew. Population of Gander at the time was fewer than 10,000 people.

The Daily Mail, December 24, 2021, described, “The resounding memory for many of those evacuees from Operation Yellow Ribbon was the outpouring of kindness each of Gander’s 10,000 residents showed to the ‘plane people’ as they would come to be known.”

Compassion Shown “Plane People.” The Daily Mail reported, “The townsfolk scrambled to welcome the arrivals, who they dubbed ‘the plane people’, and offered them shelter, clothes and food. They even inducted them into their community as ‘honorary Newfoundlanders’ in a local tradition known as a ‘Screech-In’. ” 

The Daily Mail continued, “As the planes waited in spiralling queues on the airport’s runways, local volunteers rushed to provide food and supplies to those stuck aboard the jets and off-duty air traffic controllers turned up to work.”

Local squabbles were set aside. The Daily Mail wrote, “School bus drivers who had agreed to industrial action just weeks before dropped plans to picket and helped cart passengers from the airport to the town. Other residents helped transform schools, churches, community centres and even their homes into makeshift shelters for total strangers.”

Come From Away. Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein transformed the drama, compassion, and resolution of the experience into Come from Away, a musical workshopped in 2012 and first produced at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, in 2013. Wikipedia notes that “it went on to have record-breaking runs at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015, at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 2016.”

“It opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on March 12, 2017,” Wikipedia reports, “and became a critical and box office success, routinely playing to standing-room-only audiences even during previews. In October 2018 it became the longest-running Canadian musical in Broadway history, surpassing The Drowsy Chaperones previous record of 674 performances, and has since joined the list of Broadway shows with 1,000 or more performances.” 

In Conclusion. Consider the recent cruelties of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Will these lead to such uplifting theatrical events? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022   


  1. brosgunter
    September 16, 2022

    Quite a contrast in how people are treated. We just watched the PBS documentary on the ATCs getting all the plane into Gander. Your post is a nice addendum.


    • simanaitissays
      September 16, 2022

      Thank you, John. I am appalled by using people as pawns.

  2. sabresoftware
    September 17, 2022

    Some interesting tidbits on Newfoundland.

    The island is also known as the Rock.

    Come-from-Away is a local term for anybody who is not an actual Newfoundlander, including fellow Canadians.

    You can travel to France in about an hour and a half (by sea actually) from Newfoundland (a little internet sleuthing fun).

    When Gander was built, Newfoundland was not even part of Canada. They only joined in 1949, after war debts drove the country into bankruptcy. Twenty-two thousand people out of a population of 300,000 fought with the British and Canadian forces, as there was no army there at the time, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment having disbanded after WW1. In addition 10,000 merchant seamen (a group that only recently received official recognition for their bravery) served.

    We were there for the first time last summer and really enjoyed the visit.

    As to the treatment of the migrants, I really have no words (at least ones that I would want to see in print).

    • simanaitissays
      September 17, 2022

      Thanks, sabre, for adding these Gander tidbits. I hadn’t realized Newfoundland’s relatively recent Canadian association. As for sleuthing, “Mention my name in St. Pierre and Miquelon, the greatest little islands in the world.” Along with STT, of course.

      • sabresoftware
        September 17, 2022

        When we were in Newfoundland last summer we toyed with the idea of popping over to St. Pierre (Canadians only require a government issued photo ID), but timing just didn’t work out. The ferry is quite small and we weren’t sure if we could take our rental car over for insurance reasons. The first booking available would have been after our scheduled departure from the island.

        As it is we are planning a cruise next summer that sails from Boston to Maine, Nova Scotia, up the west side of Newfoundland and stopping in Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, returning on the east side of Newfoundland with a stop in St. Pierre, Nova Scotia, and back to Boston. So we’ll get there!

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