Two weeks ago my wife and were standing outside on the Sparks Street mall right in the heart of downtown Ottawa. We had just had lunch with a longtime friend of mine and were enjoying the cool fall air outside. Nearby, commuters walked to and from work, tourists snapped photos and everyday citizens went about their lives.
As the three of us chatted outside the restaurant faint bagpipe music began to fill the air. Looking over my wife’s shoulder, to the National War Memorial that lay right across the street from where we were standing, I saw a bagpiper in full regalia escorting two members of the Canadian armed forces to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is guarded 24/7 and the shift changing ceremony I was watching takes place every single day.
As I took all of this in I couldn’t help but think of how much I loved my country and Ottawa in particular. Ottawa is a midsized city. Not overly confusing, overly sprawled or overly complex. I may be partial due to my long history there but I’ve visited many other cities both large and small and Ottawa has always been near the top of my list as a comfortable, peaceful place. Even more surprising as Ottawa is the seat of the Canadian government and a place of national importance to the country.
(detail of my birth certificate)
I was born in Ottawa, I was bred in Ottawa. Twenty of my Thirty three years have been spent there. I’ve lived in a variety of places but Ottawa will always be home to me.
Tonight, Ottawa is a city in pain and in grief. In close to the same spot my wife and I stood two weeks ago, a gunman killed the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This may have been the same man I saw assuming the post that day. In addition, shots filled the Parliament buildings and sent fear racing throughout the city.
Top: An image I took on the aforementioned day two weeks ago.
Bottom: An image from the television earlier today showing the same location (evident by the lion statues and post office logos on the windows)
Of course there weren’t that many casualties but to a city and country relatively unaccustomed to major gun violence this hurts. To a country and people used to peacefully living alongside one another this is painful.
Canada is not as used to gun violence as Americans. We can’t dismiss it as easily, we can’t deal with it as easily. So while some people might think what happened in Ottawa today is a minor incident It’s far more than that. This was a shot across the peaceful bow of Canada and one we’re not liable to forgive and forget anytime soon.
We don’t know much more at this hour than we did before. Many things are uncertain right now with regards to the facts behind the incident.
But one thing is certain: Home is changed forever. Ottawa will never be the same.
And yet despite the senseless violence, despite the fear, despite the uncertainty Canadians can still come together and stand, dignified and proud, in one of our countries darker moments. There are soldiers once again guarding the Tomb of the Unknown soldier tonight.
As we stand as one, determined to stay proud and strong as a nation, the words of our national anthem ring truer than ever:
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
Tonight and going forward, we WILL be standing on guard to protect our freedoms, our honor and our way of life. There are no terrorists alive who could ever destroy the spirit of the Canadian people.