One by one, some hand in hand, Torontonians and EMS personnel from across the nation gathered at Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday to pay their respects to the victims of 9-11.
Red, white and blue biker jackets with unique insignias identified firefighters, emergency workers and police officers who commemorated the loss of their American colleagues during the attacks that killed over 3,000 people in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
Kevin Johnson, the U.S. Consul General for Toronto, was among those attending the ceremony, donating a plaque commemorating the contributions and sacrifices of Canadian emergency workers during the 9/11 attacks.
“The event will always have sadness and horror when we look back, but it’s morphing over time as we remember those who worked with us and that we won’t ever be defeated by terrorism,” Johnson said.
But the wound goes deep for many, as 10 years later emotions still linger for Ron MacQueen, a Toronto firefighter at the time.
“We were starting a training seminar along with emergency responders from all over North America when we found out what just happened. It was devastating news,” he said.
As tragedy unfolded in New York City, every cellphone in the room started ringing with calls of a possible attack on the U.S., quickly calling for all hands on deck here too, in Canada. For Canadians, the attacks hit close to home.
“After we all understood what happened, we all rushed outside and looked at the CN Tower to see if it was still there or not,” MacQueen said.
Gayle Hurmusas, a teacher in Toronto, had just arrived at work when she heard the news.
“I walked into the staff room and my boss looked at me and told me that several planes had struck buildings in the United States,” she said. “It just hit me like a brick.”
For Hurmusas the thought of North America being a safe harbour was suddenly gone, and her unease lingers to this day.
“It was for the first time when that whole hand of violence and war really felt like it was potentially going to threaten me in a direct way, not just through someone that I knew,” she said.