The COVID-19 pandemic has kiboshed plans to pay tribute – at least officially – at Peace Arch Park to the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
The decision to cancel the 20th anniversary ceremony was made shortly after the Aug. 20 announcement of the U.S.’s extension of its border closure to Canadians, Dean Crosswhite, co-chair of the Northwest 9-11 Memorial Committee, explained Wednesday (Sept. 1).
“A couple of things came together at the end, one was the extension of the crossing policy by the U.S. on the Canadians – it’s going to be closed past the 11th, so it’s a difficult time for our Canadian counterparts to make it down,” said Crosswhite, who is assistant chief of Whatcom County Fire District 7. “The Peace Arch Park, too, on the Canadian side is still closed as well.
“Then we started running into too many agencies pulling out, not being able to come just because of the optics and the policies, with the new Delta variant coming out so strong.
“There was just too many obstacles.”
And, since the ceremony was launched by Canadians, “we just didn’t feel right about continuing on” without them.
First responders and officials from both sides of the border have come together at the Peace Arch every year to remember the lives lost that day. The death toll included 343 New York firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and two dozen Canadians.
The annual ceremony typically begins with the arrival of a motorcycle procession organized by Canadian Guy Morall, and a contingent of first responders from New York, sometimes even some who served on Sept. 11, 2001, often make the trip to share a moment of silence with their counterparts, who come out in force from both sides of the border.
Last year’s gathering was scaled down due to pandemic-related restrictions, but still included a Memorial Ride, a salute to U.S. and Canadian first responders by U.S. Consul General Brent Hardt and wreath-laying.
Crosswhite said despite the cancellation of an official event, the anniversary will not be ignored.
“There are a number of people who will probably still meet there at 11 a.m. on the 11th, to pay their respects at the Peace Arch,” he said. “It’s not organized, it’s not formalized, but I know there will probably be dozens, if not 100 there, just to be there in silence, to remember.”
Crosswhite said attendees will include a handful of New York firefighters who were among eight that had been invited to return for the 20th anniversary event. Given the option to back out following the cancellation, six still wanted to come, he said.
Canadians who want to partake are welcome, he noted, however, “if people want to do that, it’s just on their own fruition, it’s a private choice.”
“We’re not losing sight of our goal,” he added. “We can never forget, that’s what we promised.”
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