Timeline: 9/11 and Canada

Timeline: 9/11 and Canada

An American flag flies over the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings in New York on Sept. 13, 2001. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)

September 11, 2018 9:18amET

Canadians, Americans, and people worldwide again pause 17 years later to reflect and remember the events of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania as al-Qaeda carried out the deadliest terrorist attack in history.

The story of 9/11 involves unimaginable tragedy and devastating loss, but also two nations coming together in a time of need and the hospitality of a tiny community on the edge of North America.

In 2011, CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen and producer Bill Luxton took an in-depth look at the events of 9/11 through the eyes of those who dealt with the impact on Canada:

Also browse our timeline and relive the minutes, hours, and days that followed — from a Canadian perspective. (All times Eastern)

September 11, 2001

8:38 a.m. – NORAD officials, including Canadians on duty, receive the first alert of a possible hijacked plane moving towards New York City: American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles.


8:45 a.m. – The American Airlines jet, which had taken off 45 minutes earlier, crashes into the World Trade Center’s north tower after being reported as possibly hijacked 25 minutes earlier. One Canadian, a 70-year-old who became a U.S. citizen in 1962, is on board.


8:55 a.m. – In Florida, U.S. President George W. Bush is notified.


9:03 a.m. – United Airlines Flight 175, also hijacked after taking off in Boston, flies into the south tower. Saskatchewan native Garnet (Ace) Bailey, a former NHL player and current scout, is on board.


9:21 a.m. – The Transport Canada Situation Centre in Ottawa begins activating for the emergency.


9:37 a.m. – American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.


9:49 a.m. – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) stops all departures from American airports and orders all planes to land immediately, effectively shutting down the country’s airspace.


9:50 a.m. – Collapse of the World Trade Center’s south tower. Nine Canadians inside are reported killed.



NAV CANADA, the private corporation responsible for air traffic control, issues a ground stop for all departures. The order from Transport Minister David Collenette is relayed through Transport Canada’s director of civil aviation.

The decision comes from a sport utility vehicle driving from Montreal to Ottawa; Collenette has just delivered a morning speech to 2,000 North American airport executives attending a conference at the Palais des Congrés.

Near the end of his remarks, the audience is visibly restless. An official placed a note on the podium recommending Collenette wrap up because a tragedy has occurred. Few details are available, and the minister admits to giving the most “incoherent scrum” of his political career afterwards.

While moving down the escalator at the convention hall, he’s told of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center – and that both are Boeing 767 passenger jets, not small aircraft as had been initially reported by some media outlets.


10 a.m. (approx) – As later reported in Vanity Fair magazine, NORAD receives reports of another potential hijacking, this time from Canada, that turn out to be false.


10:03 a.m. – United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania after being hijacked.


10:24 a.m. – The F.A.A. announces the diversion of all U.S.-bound transatlantic flights to Canada. Every 90 seconds, a pilot requests to enter Canadian airspace.

Also over the Atlantic Ocean is Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley, flying Air Canada from Frankfurt to Toronto.

He’s looking forward to a few hours of relaxation after meetings in Berlin with fellow G8 foreign ministers.

Instead, flight attendants usher him to the kitchen area and inform him of what’s happening in the United States. Manley sits with the pilots, listening to BBC Radio for information.


10:28 a.m. – Collapse of the World Trade Center’s north tower. Thirteen Canadians inside are reported killed.


10:40 a.m. – THE ECONOMY

Canadian stock markets are closed. The TSE 300 Composite has fallen 293.86 points, closing prematurely at 7,050.84. Air Canada’s stock price falls nearly seven per cent in less than one hour.

Toronto’s high-rise financial district becomes a ghost town by the early afternoon as workers stream out.

Customs officers tighten border control during the days, searching all vehicles, and examining ID for everyone entering the country.

The effective shutdown has fast consequences for businesses that rely on cross-border deliveries. Ford, for instance, closes its American and Canadian plants after the morning shift.


10:43 a.m. – NAV CANADA notifies pilots that departures from Canadian airports are cancelled, and that U.S.-bound flights will head north instead.

The decision leaves U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci stranded at the Calgary airport, unable to return to Ottawa and oversee matters at the embassy. Cellucci is already onboard an Air Canada plane when the order is announced.



Prime Minister Jean Chrétien releases a written statement after cancelling a meeting with Slovakian President Rudolf Schuster and a later trip to Halifax:

“There can be no cause or grievance that could ever justify such unspeakable violence. Indeed, such an attack is an assault not only on the targets but an offence against the freedom and rights of all civilized nations.

“We stand ready to provide any assistance that our American friends may need at this very, very difficult hour and in the subsequent investigation.”

Chrétien is notified of the attacks earlier in the morning while meeting with Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert. He quickly makes contact with RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, Gen. Ray Henault, chief of the defence staff, National Revenue Minister Martin Cauchon, the man responsible for customs enforcement, and Michael Kergin, Canada’s ambassador in Washington.

Chrétien also speaks with Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, but can’t immediately reach Bush.


11:00-11:30 a.m.THE SCENE IN OTTAWA

Streets around Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada are blocked by police after reports of a suspicious package in an abandoned car near the East Block. Barricades are eventually erected at entrances, ID badges are required, and public tours of Parliament are cancelled in the afternoon. Other federal government offices remain open, though workers are allowed to leave if necessary.

In Ottawa, several agencies will meet throughout the day, including the RCMP, CSIS, Canada Customs, the Department of National Defence, Transport Canada, and Emergency Preparedness Canada. As part of a post-9/11 reorganization, many of these agencies will come under the newly-created Public Safety Canada.

Also in the capital, civil servants belonging to the Public Service Alliance of Canada call off a one-day voluntary strike.

Extra security is visible at the U.S. Embassy and Prime Minister’s residence. Mourners would establish an impromptu shrine outside the former building with thousands of bouquets and messages.

11:17 a.m.
– All departures from Canadian airports are cancelled.

11:30 a.m. (approx)

The Canadian Forces take “executive control” of Canadian airspace, normally a wartime measure. Security is increased at military bases.

During the day, about 200 Canadian Forces medical and engineering personnel are sent from CFB Petawawa to CFB Trenton in case they need to be flown to New York. Three naval ships are also on high alert to deliver humanitarian supplies. Neither the troops nor the ships are deployed.

Also, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission orders heightened security at nuclear facilities across the country.

12:16 p.m.
– American airspace is fully cleared.

12:28 p.m.

Collenette formally orders the closure of Canadian airspace to commercial traffic. Only military, police, search-and-rescue, and humanitarian flights are permitted. Across Canada, Red Cross officials are assembling teams to send to airports to help incoming passengers.

About 200 flights from Europe to the United States are redirected to eastern Canadian airports during the day. The same process is underway on the Pacific coast with flights from Asia.

With fears of more potential attacks, air traffic controllers are told to avoid landing the planes in large population centres such as Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.

One flight allowed to proceed to Toronto is the Boeing 747 carrying Manley from Germany. A Transport Canada plane takes the foreign minister from the nearly-empty Pearson International Airport to Ottawa. An airport TV is also Manley’s first chance to view the actual video footage from Manhattan. “I was incredulous,” he remembers.

All told, 239 planes, with more than 30,000 people on board, land in Canada by 6p.m. ET:

Halifax 47
Gander 38 (6,000 passengers)
Vancouver 34 (8,500 passengers)
St. John’s 21
Montreal 17
Winnipeg 15
Toronto 14
Calgary 13 (2,300 passengers)


The Canadian Forces sends blankets and cots, and opens up housing for stranded travelers.

1:24 p.m.
– Korean Airlines Flight 85 (Seoul to New York) issues a hijacking alert while crossing the Pacific Ocean towards Alaska for a refuelling stop.

Collenette recalls that the CIA and CSIS were in communication over other potential hijackers on board the planes being landed in Canada.


1:35 p.m. – Military officials notify the Whitehorse RCMP that the Boeing 747 passenger jet is headed towards the airport – and is another potential hijacking.


2 p.m. – Evacuations are underway at Whitehorse schools and downtown buildings. Local police establish a security perimeter around the Whitehorse airport.


2:01 p.m. -Chrétien holds a brief scrum on Parliament Hill. Chrétien talks about hearing of the catastrophe and faces questions about whether the culprits entered the United States through Canada.

The following week, Chrétien tells the Commons that cabinet did not need an emergency meeting because: “minutes after what happened in New York I and my ministers in every department were doing our jobs. They were on the telephone with me and all the deputy ministers and all the military and security were doing their jobs.”

With Parliament not yet sitting for the fall session, many cabinet ministers are away from Ottawa. Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay, responsible for the RCMP, is in Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, Manley’s top priority after returning to Canada is contacting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Canadian diplomats in Washington and New York.

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, in New York with several provincial officials on a trade mission, remains in Manhattan.

2:30 p.m.
– Governor General Adrienne Clarkson releases a statement:

“I am shocked by the tragedy occurring in your country, and Canadians join me in expressing to you and the American people our deepest sympathies. As we witness this horrific sequence of events, our hearts go out to the thousands of people who are grieving for the loss of their loved ones and their fellow citizens.

“We want you to know our enormous sorrow for the victims and their families and everyone touched by this morning’s most tragic events.”

– KAL Flight 085 and its 250 passengers land safely in Whitehorse – with a military escort. Questions remain over why pilots originally sent the hijack alert. Chrétien said one year later that he gave approval in principle to shoot down the plane if necessary.

5:00 p.m.
– Zaccardelli tells journalists in Ottawa that there are no details yet on whether the hijackers entered the United States through Canada.

The charge would be repeated in several U.S. reports in the days following the attacks, and continue through the years despite evidence to the contrary.

The U.S. 9/11 Commission concluded in 2004 that all the hijackers entered the United States from outside North America, not Canada.

September 12, 2001

U.S. border agents remain on maximum alert, leading to extended delays at international crossings.

Chrétien speaks to Bush in the morning, expressing sympathy and support. Bush mentions his gratitude for the emergency plane landings across Canada, according to the prime minister.

During a brief scrum with reporters, Chrétien does not speculate on future military action or possible Canadian links to the attack.

1:36 p.m.
– Chrétien appears on CNN, telling viewers that there is no indication yet that the hijackers entered the United States from the north.

3 p.m.
– The flying ban in Canadian airspace is lifted for domestic air travel. The Canadian government also allows delayed and diverted U.S. flights from the previous day to begin taking off, although restrictions remain in place south of the border.

The backlog could take several days to clear, Collenette says at an Ottawa news conference.

The transport minister also announces increased security measures at Canadian airports, but was coy about providing details despite tough questions about not providing more information to the public.

By the weekend, most of Canada’s major air carriers reported being nearly back to normal with their domestic schedules.


  • Day requests an emergency debate in the House of Commons.
  • Zaccardelli says a similar attack could happen on Canadian soil, even though Canada is not considered a major terrorist target. Zaccardelli says that the RCMP would investigate any Canadian links, but cannot comment on any specific intelligence leading up to the hijackings.
  • Cellucci joins CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen after the revelation that hijackers had trained as pilots within the United States. Cellucci also discusses the need for more cross-border coordination on immigration and security.

And in the evening, Canada and other NATO members invoke Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty for the first time. The article from NATO’s founding document states that an attack on the United States is an attack on all members:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.


September 13, 2001

  • Chrétien calls for a national day of mourning on Sept. 14, the following day. He reiterates Canada’s commitment to fighting terrorism but avoids specific commitments to a military contribution or new immigration laws.
  • International and cross-border flights begin taking to the skies again from Canadian airports.
  • With just-in-time deliveries still facing border delays, General Motors shuts down Ontario car plants because of parts shortages.
  • MacAulay tells reporters that the government may expedite legislation aimed at fundraising for terrorist groups.
  • Day calls yesterday’s events “clearly a barbaric attack on Canada as well,” given the Canadian victims. He and Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic Brian Pallister call for unequivocal military support for the United States.

September 14, 2001

An estimated 100,000 people gather outdoors on Parliament Hill to remember the victims. Chrétien, Clarkson, and Cellucci address the crowd.

Ten years later, the former ambassador tells CPAC that: “It was very clear to me in our time of need, there was no doubt that we could count on the Canadians.”

September 17, 2001, 1
1 a.m.

The House of Commons resumes sitting with an emergency debate led off by speeches by the five party leaders: Chrétien, Day, Gilles Duceppe, Alexa McDonough, and Joe Clark.

For MPs, it’s a time to mourn, to express solidarity with the United States, and to question the Chrétien government’s commitment to fighting terrorism on Canadian soil.

During Question Period, the prime minister is queried on possible anti-terrorism legislation, Canada’s participation in military action, and consultation with the House of Commons. Other ministers face questions about border security and acts of violence and vandalism against Canadian Muslims.

-Andrew Thomson

Watch our full collection of 2011 interviews with the political leaders at work on 9/11: