Yellowknife was far from the epicentre of events as terrorists hijacked four aircraft on the morning of September 11, 2001. But CJCD, the local radio station, still managed to win an award for its coverage that day.
At the back of the CJCD news office hangs a plaque from the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada. The station won a national award among small-market broadcasters for its reporting on September 11.
It’s not known whether any recording of the award-winning broadcast still exists.
Allan Thrasher was a reporter for CJCD that day, dispatched to Yellowknife Airport as aircraft across North America were hurriedly grounded by aviation authorities in response to the hijackings and their devastating aftermath.
Below, Allan remembers reporting from Yellowknife on the day.
A lot of the Canadian television coverage was still on tape delay. You didn’t know the full story unless you were watching American TV.
There was virtually nobody at the airport, and the guy who ran the airport asked me: “What the hell are you doing here?” He didn’t know, he didn’t believe me at first.
As the news broke, a strange sort of panic went on. The administrators in Yellowknife seemed to be four or five steps behind the media. They were expecting flights to come in and they never really got them, except for two, both from Tokyo.
The officials were worrying that all these passengers were coming in from Tokyo and there was no food, so they were going to go to the three or four sushi places in Yellowknife for help.
But they found out, when the planes landed, that virtually all of those on board were American cattlemen. So they were scrambling.
At the time, Yellowknife only had about 10 restaurants, so instead they decided to go to the local Dairy Queen to see if they could provide some hamburgers.
All the passengers were housed at the military base, with tight fencing around it. We weren’t allowed to talk to people in-depth, just general questions. It was absolutely surreal in the airport itself, with nobody except the polar bear and myself for at least the first hour or two.
I was on speaking terms with a couple of people at the city’s Muslim association at the time, and they were scared of being attacked, they kept a very low profile. It was a raw situation for them.
Yellowknife had one of the largest diamond-mining conferences in the world scheduled for September 14. Of course, it never happened.
We won the award because we worked our tails off. Our news director was a stickler for facts and we always tried to dig as much as we could, to find any angle.
“We’re a capital city,” he said. “We’ve got to perform like a capital city. Pretend like it’s 100,000 people, 200,000, and get some stories.”
Other networks were running tape-delayed stuff, so we had a two-hour advantage on them as a result. It was one strange day, to say the least.