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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
On any given day, audiences across three continents pay to learn about central Newfoundland’s hospitality on 9/11.
The Come From Away story — much like the Town of Gander — centres around the airport and tells the tale of locals who welcomed nearly 7,000 stranded passengers during the 2001 tragedy.
For actress Petrina Bromley, who plays Bonnie in the Broadway musical, the tale is one that resonated with people during a time of political upheaval.
“People tell us all the time that this is a story they need to hear now and that needs to be told,” she said during an interview with the Central Voice.
And the stories of communities like Gander, Appleton, and Glenwood continue to be told far and wide. The musical even made its way to Australia back in July.
Bromley said the musical also recently celebrated 1,000 performances on Broadway.
“Do the math; we’ve told this story to a lot of people,” she said. “The idea that in the City of Melbourne, several hundred people a night are hearing people talk about the Legion and Shoppers Drug Mart, is just impossible to think (about).”
Bromley noted the musical is performed eight times a week in New York City, with about 1,000 people in the audience.
Given that this is the production’s third year, a rudimentary tally suggests over a million people have seen the show on Broadway — a huge figure when you consider Gander’s population is around 10,000.
And that interest is resulting in tourism.
The 9/11 Beyond Words Tour, which is operated by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum, is just one example of the town’s growing tourism sector.
Katerina Lane, one of the tour guides, said the tour was established in 2017 and is helping tourists explore the sites and characters of the musical.
“Each summer, we’ve seen a consistent increase in the number of tours were giving,” said Lane, adding the museum has given 35 tours since June 10 this year.
The tour starts with a trip to the airport, where visitors are given a history lesson on the facility’s importance and role in 9/11.
From there, the tours head to the town hall, where they are introduced to a notable local before returning to the museum.
“Basically, we get someone who was here in Gander at the time of 9/11 to come and talk to the tourists,” explained Lane. “We are fortunate enough to get people who are portrayed in the musical. The tourists love that.”
Bromley noted that unlike some tourist destinations, the play’s locations, like the airport, are accessible.
“Come From Away is a different kind of musical in a lot of ways, because it’s a true story. It’s history that is recent and there are places you can come and visit,” she said.
The Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce has also been doing its part to welcome tourists.
Hazel Bishop, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, said the chamber has created a visitor passport to help promote sites in the region.
“The passport outlines the various Town of Gander sites, plus the communities involved with Come From Away and the whole 9/11 event,” explained Bishop.
“A lot of people who are coming are looking for those Come From Away experiences.”
But exploring central Newfoundland is just the start; Bishop said she’s heard from tourists that they need more time to explore the province.
“It’s just enough to hook them that they want to come back and do the full experience,” she said.
Bishop added that 2019 has seen a 15 per cent increase in tourists to the region compared to last year.
As per the latest numbers, 9,300 people visited in July, bringing this year’s total up to 14,000 for the season.
And, as long as the musicals continue, Bishop expects these numbers to grow.