Monday, September 14, 2015

Room at the Inn

Mack Hall, HSG

Room at the Inn

If Jesus had been born in Newfoundland, the folks there would have found room for the Holy Family.

Many Americans fly over Newfoundland on their way to and from Europe, but too few visit that beautiful island. Fourteen years ago, when all flights to and from the USA were forbidden, a great many people of all nations found themselves taking an unexpected time-out there.

This piece of 9/11 history comes from Newfoundland via a friend of a friend there. Heather McKinnon, the operations manager of the Delta Hotel and Conference Center in St. John’s, relates this remembrance of 9.11.2001 and the days following:

I will never forget this day for the rest of my days. It was a Tuesday, on Sept 11, 2001. We became aware at the Delta that we would start accepting the passengers whose flights were landing in quick succession at YYT [St. John’s]. The first group of guests who arrived were flight crews from two United Airlines flights who had just lost many of their colleagues. They were shell shocked. Then the passengers started arriving - hundreds more than we could handle comfortably. And they kept coming. They slept on the floor in the ballrooms and meeting rooms, on couches in the lobby, anywhere they could find a space. This went on until the following Sunday. And my team here at the Delta displayed a level of humanity I won't soon forget. They swung into action. Worked an 8 hour shift and then volunteered to stay behind as unpaid volunteers for another 8-10 hours - served food, read stories to the children, organized games, took passengers to their homes for showers, did pharmacy runs. It went on and on. Corporate partners like Margot Bruce-O'Connell at ExxonMobil reached out to help us manage the masses. George Street United Church ministers conducted an ecumenical service in our lobby and everyone gathered together. Air Canada and United Airlines stranded flight crew showed up in their uniforms as a sign of respect to the fallen air crew of the US flight crew. It was heart breaking.

We had to ask all the ballroom sleeping bag guests to pack up their belongings on the Saturday before they left so a wedding could go ahead. Once the dinner was over, the bride threw open the doors to the ballroom and invited the passengers to the dance. For the first dance, they all joined hands in a massive circle around the wedding couple as they took their first dance. These passengers arrived as strangers. On Sunday, they left as grateful friends. On this day, every year since, I still receive messages from some of the guests from that week. They say the same thing. They will never forget. I have kept every one of those messages. What a week that was.


An excellent book related to the thousands of travelers grateful to have been given sanctuary by the generous citizens of Newfoundland is Jim DeFede’s The Day the World Came to Town, New York: Harper Collins, 2002.


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