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It’s the 20th anniversary of 9/11: news staff share their memories of that day

We were all in different places and stages of life two decades ago, but we all remember what we were doing Sept. 11, 2001
The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center were 20 years ago today.

It’s been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. Much has been said about the event and the anniversary, so this year’s editorial team decided to share our memories of that day. We invite you to share yours, as well, in the comments below.

Len Gillis, health-care reporter 

I was at the regular morning story meeting with a group of reporters at CTV Timmins, where I was the news director. It was about 8:35 a.m. As usual we had a couple of TVs sitting atop the filing cabinets. One was tuned to CTV, the other was tuned to CNN. The sound was turned down. As we talked about local story ideas, reporter Lydia Chubak suddenly pointed at the television where we could see that one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was on fire. We were watching dramatic live video. We turned up the audio to learn that a plane had just crashed into the building.

As expected, we were all pretty shocked and knew right away that this would be something to be included in our 6 p.m. news program, which had an international news segment. Suddenly one of the reporters shouted and the others all began speaking at once.

Our eyes were drawn to the scene of a large plane crashing into the building and pushing flames and debris through the other side. I remember thinking it was some sort of replay of the the first crash. One of the reporters quickly corrected me to advise it was actually a second plane. As the live broadcasters tried to make sense of what was happening on screen, our teletype machine began clattering at a furious rate. The teletype carried the Broadcast News/Canadian Press newswire feed. Stories were slugged with words like Bulletin-Bulletin, Urgent and Alert.

Suddenly it was clear this was an unprecedented disaster.

As the morning unfolded, the CTV national newsroom took over the network, broadcasting as much news as possible including the shocking moments when the trade towers actually collapsed. CTV's Lloyd Robertson was on the desk.

Also, throughout the day, our newsroom had a team of reporters fanned out across the city digging up reaction stories. As it would turn out in Timmins, things were happening. We managed to pin down six very good local stories, all tied in to 9/11.

One reporter found two hunters from Buffalo, NY who were stranded at the Timmins Airport because all flights to the U.S. were grounded.

They had no idea what was happening. Our reporter, with videotape rolling, explained to the American hunters that there had been a terrorist attack on their country. They were shocked and it showed on their unbelieving faces. A good story.

The mobile blood donor clinic was in town that day. Suddenly they were overwhelmed when hundreds of Timmins citizens showed up to donate blood. Another good story.

Throughout the U.S. church groups were coming together. In Timmins, the local clergy association responded as well and got together with plans for an evening church service inviting people of all faiths to an evening prayer service. Another good story.

Timmins is Canada's largest gold mining city. When disaster hits, the price of gold responds. And so it did on that day as gold spiked to $287 an ounce, a significant increase. The fourth good story.

Another reporter homed in on the fact that people were stopping whatever they were doing to watch television. It was a chance to showcase the importance of our medium. At city hall, at schools, in the shopping malls, in workplaces,  everyone was watching television. That was our fifth story.

Finally, our midday announcer and interviewer revealed that his son was working in New York City in the financial district and like so many others had to run for his life when the buildings collapsed. 

We had to do a phone interview, but it was difficult to get through on a cellphone. It would eventually happen and we got a live interview from a Timmins man, there on the ground in downtown Manhattan.

But strangely all these good stories almost never got to air. The word came down from CTV News in Toronto early in the afternoon that the network would be taking our 6 p.m. newshour.

I have to give credit to anchor Bob McIntyre for protesting that directive. 

McIntyre argued that the network had taken over everything since 9 a.m., often repeating the same information over and over. He said that as good as Lloyd Robertson was in anchoring the whole day, our Timmins viewers deserved some local news at 6 p.m. 

McIntyre said we owed it to our loyal viewers to check in at 6 p.m. and let them know what was going on locally. Robert Hurst, the vice-president of CTV News, agreed. He rescinded the earlier directive and said that every CTV station in Canada would get the first 10 minutes of the six oclock news. We cheered in Timmins.

Mark Gentili, community editor

I was working in Kapuskasing, Ont., on Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, I’d only been a reporter for about two years at that point. It was a Tuesday, which was production day at The Northern Times, the weekly paper (since shuttered) where I worked. Production day meant our staff of three was in the newsroom by 6 a.m. to lay out the paper.

I don’t recall exactly how word reached us that a plane had hit one of the towers, but I suspect an advertising rep (who started work much later than reporters do) told us when arriving for work.

Soon, the staff was gathered around an old TV in the advertising department, watching things unfold. Naturally, we needed to try to localize the event if we could for our readers.

We were able to put together a story on flights being grounded at the Kapuskasing Airport, complete with a photo of a small passenger plane on the tarmac.

It might seem a stretch that remote Kapuskasing could have any connection to New York City, but we were able to find at least one. As so oftens with small town news reporting, I, as you say, “knew a guy.”

That guy was a bartender at a local restaurant that I’d gotten to know, mostly because he was Italian and we at least had that in common. Through that association, I knew he was from New York City and knew that his father was a tailor in Manhattan, not too far from the WTC site. 

He was able to give our readers in Kapuskasing a first-hand account of the terror people around the world felt that day for their loved ones in the city. He was unable to get through to his family and was extremely worried about them, as you can well imagine. Everything is local, if you look hard enough.

Heidi Ulrichsen, associate content editor

On 9/11, I was a third-year student at Laurentian University, and the school year had just begun. It was early in the morning, and I didn’t have classes until later that day, so I decided to get going on a communications studies assignment. That involved watching a VHS tape (yup, a VHS — this was 20 years ago), so I turned on the TV, which was showing live coverage of the terrorist attacks. 

I’d somehow actually never heard of the World Trade Center twin towers at the time, NYC being far removed from my life here in Northern Ontario, although I now realize just how iconic they were, featured in many favourite movies and TV shows.

It turned out that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City not long before. As I was watching, the second tower was hit with another plane. 

I watched, transfixed, for awhile, and then walked up town in Copper Cliff to do errands. It was a sunny, crisp September day here — the skies were also clear in NYC. By the time I dropped in at my parents’ Copper Cliff place of business, I was told both towers had fallen. 

It still sickens me to think of the thousands of people who died in the attacks that day. There was no chance of survival for so many. 

I ended up attending my classes at Laurentian later on, and every television on campus was tuned to the news coverage. The 9/11 attacks — one of the major news stories of the 21st century — were of course discussed at length in my classes, especially the aforementioned communications class. 

I went on to become a journalist with Northern Life newspaper and later On the 15th anniversary of the attacks, I covered a talk by one of the twin tower survivors, Ron DiFrancesco. The Canadian is believed to be the last person out of the South Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed. You can read my 2016 story about DiFrancesco here.

Tyler Clarke, political affairs reporter  

I was sitting in a typing class at Arborg Collegiate Institute in Arborg, Man., when one of my peers said the first of the Twin Towers had been struck. The supervising teacher scolded the student for not working in the typing program as instructed and he told the class we could look at the news for a few minutes when class was over.

Typing classes were already redundant time fillers by 2001, so this direction was particularly frustrating for a group of students eager to catch up on significant world news, but we all waited and read up on the happenings from New York as soon as possible. 

It was the talk of the school for the next several months, alongside whatever imagined dramas our teenage brains dreamed up. 

There were subsequent debates in and out of class about the invasion of Iraq and the various pieces of fake news being spread by the U.S. government about there being weapons of mass destruction.

Eden Suh, new media reporter 

I was five years old when 9/11 happened. I don't remember much of the event if I'm being completely honest, but I can recall a few things. I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, at the time and I went to Pond Gap Elementary School.

It was kind of a hush-hush environment at the time, or maybe that's where my memory fogs up. But I do distinctly remember a fellow classmate telling me something bad happened. Life went on for my peers and me. We played a lot of tag and kickball during recess, we read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies. 

At some point over the years, the movies we watched turned into documentaries about 9/11. That's when I started to actually learn about the event and how it impacted the States. 

It's weird because when you watch documentaries of a historical event, it almost makes it seem like it happened in another lifetime. It felt like I was learning about a major event that I wasn't present for, but I was alive during this very tragic event. 

The assemblies we would have every Sept. 11 always had the same sombre atmosphere. Other assemblies would have at least some chatty students on the benches, but this one always stayed silent. 

And the 2004 election day was like a national holiday. I remember our whole class cheered when President George W. Bush was re-elected. "He was fighting the bad guys in Afghanistan!" we all collectively thought and believed. 

This is as far as my memories go for the events of Sept.11, 2001. And while I witnessed a tragic event get engraved in history, it also united Americans under one star-spangled banner for at least a moment in time. 

Jenny Lamothe, communities reporter 

My husband and I had recently moved to North Bay, just after we got married. In the spring of 2001, we somehow decided that we should undertake two momentous things, marriage and moving, and put them in the same month.

In September, we were finally getting ahead on the paperwork aspects of our new life, and I was using my day off to change my name on my Health Card.

We didn't turn the TV on before we left the house, and so the first sight we saw of the events of that morning was the second plane smashing through the World Trade Center. 

What followed was a group of 30 or so strangers that randomly gathered in a North Bay Service Ontario office, crying, gasping and shaking our heads trying to wrap our thoughts around what was happening. 

About the people, the injured, the dead, the families that were agonising over the loved ones trapped in the wreckage — all the things we have since examined from every angle, seen a thousand times now. It was the people, but also, the country, the good old US of A. 

We had long thought these things would never happen on our soil, wars occur somewhere else and we watch them on the news. But this was happening so close, and for me, it feels like the last time that things ever felt far away again.

But what I also remember from that day was that group of strangers. Of all the things I have forgotten over my life, their faces are not on that list. I can still see them now. All of us joined in a moment of disbelief, of tragedy, but also, not a single person complaining that the line wasn't moving. 

We had all come together with a task to be completed, when we arrived we took our numbers to be served in order and were harried and huffy about the inconveniences of bureaucracy. 

But then, we watched those scenes; even those behind the counter, everyone turned to the TV as if the moon landing was occuring again, but in this case with awe that turned to horror. 

But not one of us tried to move, to push through the line, to worry about inconveniences of daily life enough to tear ourselves from this moment. 

A little over an hour later the line did begin again, as we all sadly went back to our lives, but for that time, that small point of time, I will be forever connected with the people trying to get their health cards, whether they ever know it or not.