A year ago today, my home town was rocked by a terrorist act. A gunman shot and killed a ceremonial guard standing at the National War Memorial, then stormed Parliament. A few days after this event, I posted the following. Bringing it back to remember the event and our fallen soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo.
For those of you who don’t know, I live just outside of Ottawa, Ontario. My hometown made international news this week when a disillusioned, unstable man shot and killed a soldier standing on honour guard at our national War Memorial, then raced across the street to the Parliament Buildings, entered them, and proceeded to terrorize the politicians before being killed by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms.
Living and working in Canada’s capital after 9/11, an act of terror is…well, not something we were expecting, really, because that implies that such a thing is inevitable. It isn’t. Our police forces have uncovered and stopped many potential terrorist plots, and a huge thank you to them for their perseverance, determination and untiring service. But Ottawa’s always been a target for acts like this, even if they don’t happen frequently. (They have happened, though.)
On Wednesday, I was at work, thankfully nowhere near the events unfolding downtown. I followed everything on Twitter, though. All the confusion about how many perpetrators were involved, the news about Cpl. Cirillo’s death, the worry for people caught up in the security perimeter in the downtown core. This was happening to my home.
You have to understand, Ottawa is not a large city. We have no skyscrapers (there’s a bylaw that states that no buildings in the downtown core can be taller than the Peace Tower so it dominates the skyline). The population of Ottawa, from the eastern suburbs to the southern suburbs to the western suburbs, is just over 1 million. We’re no Toronto. We’re no Montreal. We’re a log town that was tapped by Queen Victoria in 1857 to be Canada’s capital because we were central between Upper and Lower Canada. We’re a small town that thinks, occasionally, it’s a big city.
On Friday, that small-town mentality came out.
Hundreds of people gathered at the War Memorial for the reinstatement of the honour guard. They spontaneously broke into song, singing the national anthem, after the guards took up their positions.
Thousands more stood along the route taken by Cpl. Cirillo’s procession out of town, back home to Hamilton, along the Highway of Heroes.
Thousands and thousands more—and I’m not exaggerating—lined overpasses all the way along highways leading to Hamilton.
So what did I learn this week?
Horrible, tragic, awful things can happen at any time and reverberate through my country, but even though we don’t often flaunt our patriotism, it’s there. God, it’s there and it’s strong. We won’t bow, we won’t break, no matter what is thrown at us.
Rest in peace, Cpl. Cirillo.