Let me tell you about the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada.
Aside from its name, it also goes by “The Response.” It is a stone arch filled with metal, life-size sculptures of human beings. The people depicted, shown rushing through the archway, symbolize the 11 branches of Canadian Forces that responded to WWI. The movement through the arch signifies the movement from war to peace. On the sides are engraved dates of WWI and WWII. At it’s base is the Canadian Grave of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by ceremonial guards from Canadian Forces regiments.
What was moving to me, though, about this war memorial, was that it was in the center of the hub of Ottawa. Directly in front of the Parliament buildings, it is unavoidable. It is large and close to the road, and it commands your attention. I’ve been to Washington D.C., and I’ve seen the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and it is noble and beautiful. But this one in Ottawa struck me.
Today, a 24-year-old ceremonial guard from Hamilton, ON, Canada, was shot and killed while performing his duties at the National War Memorial. What followed was several harrowing hours for everyone on Parliament Hill as lockdowns, police raids, and gridlock seized the center of the nation’s capitol. Three other victims would be transported to a local hospital, and are expected to survive. The shooter is supposedly dead as well.
I visited the memorial two years ago in 2012, just before Canada Day. This is what it looked like. Parliament is in the distance.
Let’s be clear: I’m not Canadian. Maybe a little bit, on my mom’s side, but we suspect it’s French-Canadian, which, if you’re from Canada, is an important distinction. I was born in Illinois, and attend school in Missouri. I have an uncle in Edmonton, but he moved there from the US. All in all, I have no real claim to the emotions I feel about Ottawa at this moment.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel them.
When I visited, it was a tourism experience. I did not spend extended amounts of time anywhere, and I met more people from Australia than I did Canada. That being said, I did still speak to locals. A female owner of a maple sugar farm, en francais. People on the street with cute dogs. Waiters. Hotel attendants. Shop owners and stand workers. I went to Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, and Toronto.
I believe places are a lot like people. I’ve said it before, but we build our lives in cities. We work jobs, have babies, raise families, fall in love. We slather memories across cities. We drop them like spare change. We visit and love them or visit and hate them. Cities become homes for us and for our lives. Why can’t we mourn with them and empathize with them, as we would people?
I’ve only visited Eastern Canada, but I loved it. I fell in love with it. And now, watching it struggle with another attack on its armed forces who, whether you like it or not, lay their lives on the line for their country, is heartbreaking. I’m not okay. I don’t really have a right to be “not-okay.” But I am.
To my American friends: This is like an active-shooter situation at the Capitol Building. It has rattled the Canadian psyche, and lockdowns are still in place across the Parliament Hill area of Ottawa. Many reporters believe that the threat isn’t gone, and that police are being thorough for a reason. An ordeal that began at 10AM EST is still not over at 7PM EST.
A lot of people won’t understand why I love this country, and maybe I don’t have a right to, due to my short amount of time spent there. But I do, and I can’t help it. Hopefully at least you’ll identify with the feeling of being violated, feeling unsafe, feeling scared. Our institutions, in a sense, make us a country. To see them breached and threatened is terrifying.
Canada is not a perfect country: it has racism, sexism, internal and external problems, disputes, conflict. If anything, this situation proves that. But no one should see a vital arm of government locked down, huddled in fear from an armed gunman. No soldier should worry about wearing his uniform in public, off-base. It scared me, for goodness’ sake, and I’m in Missouri.
The official motto of the city of Ottawa is “Advance.” Move forward. In French, “En Avant.”
I’m sure they picked that motto for a reason.
(Another point that is important to mention is that CBC is being ultra-vigilant in reporting only confirmed, official reports. Listening to a livestream online, reporters are correcting interviewees about details, facts, and sources. Nothing is being misreported or sensationalized, thank goodness. They are making sure people understand that lockdowns are still in place, the situation is still dangerous.)