OTTAWA – Government workers have cleared the National War Memorial of the deep drifts of flowers, flags, stuffed animals — even a couple of cans of beer — in preparation for Tuesday’s nationally televised Remembrance Day ceremony.
But the tributes keep coming.
Sunday morning — less than 48 hours before the prime minister, Governor General, a member of the royal family, veterans, soldiers, mariners, airmen and nests of live TV crews were to descend on the monument — a melancholy peace wrapped itself around the country’s memorial to those who fought and fight on its behalf.
More bouquets of flowers had been deposited overnight and during Sunday morning, along with dozens of plastic poppies, and couple of small Canadian flags.
But it was the hockey stick, and a battered old football, left in tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo that caused a catch in the throat for many visitors.
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“I think it’s really cool how people put it there, to show how he’s Canadian, his interests and something personal for him,” said Taylor Bourne, 13, of Ottawa, after silently observing the freshly sprouted display set against the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The murder of two Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil just two days apart late last month, one of them an honour guard standing sentry at the war memorial on Parliament’s doorstep, has made the towering bronze and stone statue a point of pilgrimage.
It will also shine an intense national focus on Tuesday’s Nov. 11 ceremonies.
“It’s even more focused on not only the veterans but the army today that are still working,” said Bourne.
Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed Oct. 20 in Quebec when he was run down by a car that police say was driven by a man with jihadist sympathies.
Two days later, Cpl. Cirillo was shot point blank while on guard duty at the war memorial. Cirillo died on the spot despite the heroic efforts of medically trained civilians who rushed to his aid.
His attacker, who the RCMP says harboured “ideological and political motives,” then set his sights on Parliament Hill, where he died in a hail of gunfire inside the marble-floored hall under the Peace Tower.
“Certainly, it’s magnified the importance of Remembrance Day,” said Kim Whalen of Tweed, Ont., moments after wiping away tears in front of the memorial.
She and her daughter Tara Whalen, of Kingston, Ont., had come to Ottawa to shop for the day.
“This is the most important part of the trip for us,” she said.
“It’s a reminder of what these people — all these people — do for us,” added Tara, nodding to include the heavily armed city police who now patrol the site since the deadly attack.
This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, the terrible industrial slaughter that prompted the first national day of remembrance.
Canadian war planes are once again deployed, this time to attack Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Poppy sales are up significantly, according to the Royal Canadian Legion, with more than 19 million sold compared to 18 million last year.
Princess Anne, whose grandfather King George VI originally dedicated the war memorial in 1939, will be on hand.
So will Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is literally circumnavigating the globe to appear at the National War Memorial. Harper will fly back from a China visit just to be in Ottawa for the day, then immediately jet off to Australia for an international summit.
It may be the most emotionally packed Nov. 11 since 2002, when the deaths of four Canadian soldiers to friendly fire in Afghanistan were hammering home the true price of that combat mission.
Ruben Marques, a hockey fan in his 20s visiting from Toronto for Sunday night’s Leafs-Senators game, dropped by the memorial with a group of blue-clad buddies.
Marques said he doesn’t usually do much for Remembrance Day.
“You normally stay home, you watch all the commercials and all that Nov. 11 ‘lest we forget’ type of thing. Until you come here and experience something like this — something happened here,” said Marques, his voice trailing off. “We’ve been kind of sheltered from it.”
His friend John Moreira in a Leafs jacket jumps in: “It took something like this to open up our eyes.”
Others at the memorial on Sunday had a different emotion, focused on the attackers rather than their victims.
“I wanted to come here today just to say I’m not afraid to come here,” said a woman who would identify herself only as Anna-Marie from Oakville, Ont.
“You have not succeeded and we will carry on. We’ll keep our values and you will not intimidate us.”
That too, is part of Remembrance Day.