I will never forget that day. A day that changed the world. It certainly changed North America.
At the time, I was a financial advisor at a company called Investors Group in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. That morning, I was driving from my home in North York, southbound on Highway 400 on a sunny work day morning around 10am. On the radio, a report came on about a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre in Manhattan. The radio announcer didn’t sound terribly stressed about it and I thought it was a small plane like a Cesna.
He also reported that there was smoke seen coming out of the White House. I thought that the announcer was telling a joke. I had imagined that President Bush had dropped a cigarette in his waste paper bin and that a minor fire was coming from the Oval Office. I really thought it was a light joke the announcer was making about GW Bush. I mean lots of people used to joke about his perceived limited intelligence and I thought it was that sort of joke! I never imagined that the two incidents were connected. I really had no conception of the horrific, terrible events that I would watch unfold through the day.
I arrived at the Square 1 Mississauga City Centre Office at 10:30am. At about 1pm I went into the Square 1 Mall and then started to realize the enormity of the day. On the TVs at all of the electronic shops, they showed the World Trade Towers burning. I passed around three shops like this. Random mall shoppers were milling around the TVs, faces showing awe, worry and concern.
Arriving back at the office, we were notified via our company email that the stock exchanges were closed and that financial advisors like myself were not able to buy and sell mutual funds whether it be via the computerized systems or any other way. That made it sink into me more. Only in severe emergencies were measures such as these taken. However, even after hearing all of these things, I did not realize the scale of the calamity.
I had heard that airports were closed in the US with planes being prohibited from landing and taking off. Apparently, if I had looked out the window, I would have been aware of the large volume of planes flying over our building. We were on the flight path for the runways of Toronto Pearson airport and the Canadian and US Governments had made arrangements that US planes stranded in the air would land at Canadian airports. Again, it was in the next few days did I connect the dots. I certainly didn’t connect the dots that day.
Financial markets were closed. There was a sense that this was a crisis. By 7pm I decided to go home. I had a sense by this time that this was international terrorism so in my first geopolitical act, I went and bought gas as I knew a Middle East attack was going to be the result and that gas prices always went up. Others had similar thinking as I and there was a substantial line at the gas station. I got gas though.
I had supper at the Subway Sub shop at Jane and Finch in North York. It was weird as 2 Muslim guys walked in and seemed very agitated. I take it that they were from the nearby York University. We got into a little bit of a verbal dispute about terrorism but it wasn’t serious. I felt for them too as I realized as I think they did that life for them in North America would change. They were now going to be viewed always suspiciously. Sad.
I got home. Turned on CNN. I watched their reporting all night. I saw the tragic scenes of the airplanes hurtling into the buildings. And then I watched them fall. I could not sleep until 4am. The suffering, the lives taken, the terror. I learned about the Pentagon crash and the downed plane in Pensylvania. It was from afar I witnessed this but it seared a lasting memory. To believe that I started the day thinking it was a joke.