Welcome to the Rock! Visiting Gander after seeing Come from Away

First of all, as brilliant as David Hein and Irene Karl Sankoff are, they could not replicate all of what happened and use all of the locations that were important to passengers who landed at Gander International Airport on September 11, 2001. It would be impossible or certainly take volumes to document.

That’s why two things are very important when you come to visit.

 

Personally, I find it flattering to be represented on stage and to have people reach out to me, but it’s also overwhelming.

I’m very aware, every single day, that I was one of hundreds of teacher volunteers and the teachers were one of dozens of groups like service groups, churches, etc. who stepped up and used our ordinary skills and resources in what became an extraordinary event.

The teacher character of Beulah Davis represents all of these individuals and all of those school buildings are represented by Gander Academy. It’s also daunting as the requests start to become more frequent. One million people have seen Come from Away since it started in La Jolla. The Town of Gander is starting to work on tourist information related to Come From Away inspired folks and we help as the make plans and ask questions based on our interactions with visitors and viewers in NYC and TO.

Talk to Strangers

My number one tip is rather than trying to track down the characters like myself, who are represented on stage in the Come from Away musical, talk to the residents and ask about their stories from the 4 days when they helped to provide for 6800 unexpected guests. Of course, if you run into any of us say hi too, but remember, we are but a few of thousands.

There are  tens of thousands of stories to hear and even those who were too young or not from here know tales of family members or neighbours who helped in some ways. Allow those hard workers to tell you how they helped and how their lives were changed too in the experience. Thank them for their stories and their help if you feel a need to thank people. I’ve been thanked thousands of of times on their behalf.

This blog post will hopefully help me to reply to some requests I’ve had and direct others to find a way to plan their visits too.

Only yesterday, in Twillingate, I heard that a cook from the hospital went to Gander to cook for several days. I marvel at every new story I hear but only hear them when I ask folks how they were involved or, like yesterday, remind people that rather than telling the story of Come from Away to visitors who come, they should tell the stories of their own efforts or the Red Cross or Salvation Army volunteers from their communities. That was when a server at Annie’s restaurant in Twillingate told us about the hospital cook who was called in to help.

Another example of a person who used their every day skill but contributed to what turned into a huge effort.

Tour the Region

That brings up the second important point.

While the planes landed in Gander and the majority of the passengers were housed here, this was a regional effort in ways that I probably still don’t even understand.

David and Irene did a brilliant job of making sure that the 6 communities were named in the Come From Away musical. Appleton, Glenwood, Gambo, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Gander housed passengers in schools, halls, churches and homes. Two church camps were used too. In a second scene, the communities were named again in referencing the mayors of each town. It would be impossible to name every other community that helped or even every school on stage.

I’m personally getting numerous requests for information and advice about what to see when fans or friends come to Gander with Come from Away songs circling in their heads and hearts.  I’m a know promoter of Newfoundland and want to help folks but the numbers are growing and I’m trying to find a way to be more efficient as requests come in.

This post will help to summarize some of my ‘greatest hits’ related to 9/11, Gander’s aviation history and the beautiful region that rose to the occasion.

The post will evolve over time as I find some images and learn about other locations and tips. This will be a good starting point for visitors planning trips, I hope.

Getting Here

As I typed that, the bodran drum beat started in my head and I heard “On the northeast tip of the North Atlantic….”

We are an island. You arrive by ferry at Port aux Basques  or Argentia or you fly in. Remember, Gander has an airport! You can fly directly here or to St. John’s or Deer Lake.

PREBOOK RENTAL CARS. We are an island and rental cars are not unlimited here. This is also the first warning on the department of tourism page.

PREBOOK ACCOMODATIONS. We were able to step up and help and offer spare rooms on 9/11 because it was an emergency, work places were closed, etc.

I’ve actually had a number of folks hint and ask outright about staying in personal homes including my own. I understand that they may be looking for a 9/11 experience but tourism is a major industry here and we’re all excited that increased visits will create more accommodation and restaurants and experiences for visitors and residents. Also, book a year ahead if you can. That’s a serious suggestion. Things are getting busy and if you want the accommodations you fell in love with on a web page, don’t put it off.

We are a large island. Come for as long as you have to get a good feel for the province. This post will concentrate on Central Newfoundland but see my other posts and other blogs and the tourism ads and pages for other tips and areas.

Gander

Gander’s an airport town and the Gander International Airport if one of may sites to visit. Specifically, the International Lounge is historic for many reasons and it is also the location of one of 4 pieces of steel from the Twin Towers. Ask for a tour at the information desk if the Commissionaire has time. I’m not sure that’s actually part of their job.

Gander Town Hall is my second suggestion in relation to 9/11. Visit on a weekday during business hours and see the 3 binders of letters from passengers, family members, airlines, etc. The letters are on a table just inside the door and there are two reading chairs. Take tissues. Read until the tears flow, then move on. I think the third binder is letters that came after the 10th anniversary and the Tom Brokaw documentary.

My next favorite spot in the Gander Heritage Memorial Park. Located on the corner of Lindberg and Airport Boulevard, the pathways reflect the design and lay out of the runways at the airport and the monument tell of Gander’s rich aviation history.

The North Atlantic Aviation Museum is the location of another piece of steel from the Twin Towers and great history and artifacts from the community and related to our response to 9/11 and Come From Away.

The Beyond Words Tour is a guided bus tour around Gander that can be booked through the museum to visit a number of sites, including those I listed above. If you can do that first, it may help you then to decide where to go back and spend time. This was a new venture last year and profits from the tours are to be a fund raiser for the museum.

Gander SPCA has become a destination! Many fans have stopped in to visit Bonnie and the cats and dogs and donations are assisting in building a new shelter. Fundraising is ongoing so feel free to help if you can.

The Royal Canadian Legion is where Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Roarke actually met. Beulah is a very active Legion member and with the help of the Tourism Development Officer at the Town of Gander, one thing being discussed is organizing Screech Ins at different locations. The Legion will most certainly be one on a night when there isn’t bingo or another event. Again, stop in for a visit, bingo or a drink. Chat to the folks there and here more stories about Gander and also 9/11.

Our Ensemble Region

It’s perhaps unfair to say the other communities supported Gander. We were, like the actors in Come from Away, an ensemble.

Make sure to ask in each community about where passengers stayed, where food was prepared, who volunteered in some way.

In Gambo, visit the Trailways bar and churches and halls. Remember that bar that Diane referred to on her walk with Nick? There is also a beautiful park and a great museum about Joey Smallwood. A lot of understanding of Newfoundland to be learned.

Also, drive to Dover and visit the Dover Fault. Hare Bay Adventures offers a tour that includes the Fault, I think. There are considerably less than “a million stairs”. For me, this is where the river meets the sea. I’ve seen a small iceberg from Dover Fault once.

In Appleton, visit the Town Hall and the Appleton Peace Park, home to the largest piece of steel from the Twin Towers. This is the location of the annual service of remembrance on September 11 and the town where the grills were collected for the BBQ.

Glenwood’s school was the location visited by the Jewish man from Gander in his quest to find the Rabbi. It was also where an artist left a beautiful chaulk drawing on the blackboard and then sent a post of his Salt Lake City Olympic poster. I think that’s also where a Kosher kitchen was set up but I’ll edit as folks correct me on things. I was pretty busy those 4 days and am still only learning what other things happened and where.

In Lewisporte, again the Town Hall is a good stop. The Town Halls received the letters and thank yous that came for months and still come randomly. The Delta 15 Scholarship is actually a high school scholarship in Lewisporte. Stories had to be slightly modified to avoid confusion and keep the flow for that genius musical.

Norris Arm has a museum and theatre.  Again, stop at the Town Hall to get information. Over 100 people stayed in this small town. I’m still learning about the museum and will add more when I know it.

The Loop

The Loop is the local name for the coastal drive, leaving the highway at Gambo and circling back through Lumsden and Musgrave Harbour. I seriously recommend taking a day to drive the Loop and if you are going to do the Gambo and Dover stops, maybe booking accommodations for a least one night. I’ve done it in as many as 2 night stops and could easily do that again or even 3 when all the museums are open and if there are icebergs to distract me.

I like Norton’s Cove Studio (and Cafe) in Brookfeild, Barbour Living Heritage Village in Newtown, the Court House in Greenspond and Ida’s Tea Room. We like to visit and wharfs and look at the fishing boats in Lumsden, Musgrave Harbour and Carmenville too.  On a day when we have lots of time, we drive to Aspen Cove and Ladle Cove to look for icebergs and admire the views.

These communities all helped in 9/11 and would all benefit from tourist visits whether you buy gas, meals or even attend local museums and events. This drive also gives you more of the outport view of Newfoundland and access to our history and culture that far exceeds Gander’s aviation past in relationship to it’s length of history.

This is just a taste of what I would recommend to visitors. Think about staying in Lewisporte for a few nights and then the Loop and Gander in whatever order works for you. Go to Fogo Island and Change Islands and Twillingate to see those beautiful areas too and ask about 9/11 there to learn how far people traveled and sent help for passengers.

Then start planning your next trip to Newfoundland because one is not enough.

 

Links that may help:

 

Great areas to visit near and around Gander

Newfoundland Tourism web page

Newfoundland Iceberg Reports Facebook group

Central Newfoundland tourism page 

 

 

 

 

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