The City of Hamilton Standard of Excellence
In the wake of one of Canada’s most tragic and somber moments in history, I am left contemplating just what Cpl. Nathan Cirillo means to the City of Hamilton.
The reservist was one of only so many soldiers of exemplary military service to be specially selected to stand guard at Canada’s National War Memorial in Ottawa. His specific duty was to watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, another Canadian known only to God who had died in combat near Vimy Ridge, France in 1917.
Canada was established in 1867. I think that it’s a pretty fair guess that in its 147 years of existence, there has never been a terrorist attack on an armed or unarmed soldier or anyone else, in broad daylight, at the National War Memorial in the nation’s capital. Not even the FLQ attempted such a crime, and although the police regarded them as amateurs, they were quite brazen and dangerous.
After becoming a cadet at age 13, and eventually going on to be a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces, Cpl. Cirillo must have contemplated the possibility that he might violently die serving his country. Despite its fair share of international military responsibilities; however, this is a peaceful country in peacetime.
While those selected for the distinguished sentry duty at the National War Memorial do so with rifles, the role is ceremonial and firearms typically do not have ammunition.
So, in consideration of all of the above, there was absolutely no reason for Cpl. Cirillo to expect a lone homegrown terrorist to leap from a car on a busy nearby public street, charge up with a riffle fully loaded with live rounds and open fire on the soldier, without provocation, shortly before 10AM on October 22, 2014.
The last moments of Cpl. Cirillo’s life were spent being comforted by Barbara Winters, a complete stranger who heard the gunfire and ran to Cirillo’s side as he layed at the base of the Cenotaph.
Within a few hours, the news was reporting the identity of the day’s fallen soldier; following another terrorist attack in which Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed when he was run down by a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec only two days earlier. The nation learned that Cirillo served with Hamilton’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and that he was a true Hamilton native. Citizens began to place flower bouquets at the James Street North entrance gate and walls of the armoury.
The streetside memorial, reminiscent of that of Fulton and Broadway in New York City after 9/11, grew over the next several days.
The way Cpl. Cirillo was ambushed somehow makes the attack seem profoundly more cowardly than had Cpl. Cirillo been able to engage the gunman with his own weapon before succumbing to his fate. Somehow, it also brings about an air of legendary knight-like valor about this man who eagerly accepted the duty he did in a world in which, honestly, virtually any adversity can transpire.
Despite the animosity between citizens who live on the suburban mountain and those of urban Lower Hamilton, we stopped being insecure about our city, callous toward one another and came together in genuine pride over this 24 year-old father of a 6 year-old boy who died for our country by serving without malice directed toward anyone, for any reason. Despite all the knocks this city has taken from without and certainly within, citizens took profound pride in the knowledge that Cpl. Cirillo was a genuinely hard working and most honourable Hamiltonian.
Hundreds of us lined Main Street West on the evening of October 24 to witness the police escorted procession that brought this soldier’s body back to this old garrison town. I can only try to imagine the emotional impact that the community support had on this man’s family.
By the thousands, we lined James Street in an effort to pay our final respects during the very somber October 28 private funeral held in Christ’s Church Cathedral by the armoury.
He deserves to always be respected and remembered. He set a high example for us to always strive to do and be more for ourselves and our communities. To be more considerate of each other; to treat each other better, not just one time but for all times. To live and work steadfastly within the established system but when the system fails any of us, find ethical ways of fixing it, and try again. We need to learn from his example and make good on it. Never let it be for naught.