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Canada A town not accustomed to fear loses its innocence

There was a third fatality Wednesday morning in Ottawa.

Innocence.

From the day Queen Victoria chose the capital – some say by blindly sticking a pin in a map – the rest of the country has offered little but scorn toward this old lumber town that sits where the Rideau and Gatineau rivers join the mighty Ottawa.

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But this day there was a new feeling from beyond: sorrow. And within the National Capital Region there was anger, fear, terror.

Precisely as had been intended.

Ottawa, Canada, was suddenly the lead news item across the world as a 24-year-old soldier was gunned down while standing guard at the National War Memorial and a rifle-wielding assailant laid siege to Parliament Hill. With shots echoing in the marble corridors and parliamentarians cowering in their offices, the intruder stalked and terrified the Centre Block until security guards finally shot and killed him.

Rumours had two attackers, several attackers, snipers on the rooftops, shots in a nearby mall. Schools across the city were locked down. Wednesday's NHL match between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs – awkwardly billed as "The Battle of Ontario" in both morning papers – was postponed. Minor hockey across the city was cancelled.

This town is not used to fear.

You have to go back to Queen Victoria's time to find a political assassination. The year after Ottawa became the Dominion capital, Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee was shot dead as he entered his rooming house on Sparks Street, a single block from Parliament Hill. So outraged were the locals that 6,000 of them showed up to witness the hanging of Patrick James Whelan outside the city jail. They buried him in a spot so quickly forgotten that it became a parking lot, with not a hint of who lay below the pavement.

It took nearly a century – 98 years – before another dramatic attempt to kill Canadian politicians, this one failing when a bumbler named Paul Joseph Chartier set out to "exterminate as many members as possible" by throwing several sticks of dynamite down on the House of Commons. The madman who dreamed he might himself somehow become "President of Canada" lighted the fuse in a third-floor washroom and didn't even make it out the door before the crude bomb blew up in his hand, killing him instantly.

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Other attacks have taken place in the shadow of the Peace Tower, but their "violence" more often brought laughter than action. Milk was once poured over the head of a cabinet minister; a woman in the public gallery tossed a bag of human excrement that hit a member; a 1989 bus hijacking ended after the bus bogged down in mud on Parliament Hill, the hijacker fired off a couple of erratic revolver shots and police brought a peaceful end to the affair after a five-hour standoff.

But never, ever was there anything like this.

Eight years ago, Ottawans were outraged when three young men overcelebrating Canada Day were photographed relieving themselves at the same War Memorial where Wednesday another young man lay dying while paramedics worked feverishly, but futilely, to save him.

Outraged then, but shaken this day to the very core.

Things like this aren't supposed to happen in "The Peaceable Kingdom," the "kinder, gentler" nation. Not in Ottawa. This capital city may well be unique in that it has more statues celebrating peace and co-operation and statesmanship than it does marking war. Canadians still see themselves as peacekeepers even if, increasingly, that seems a rather quaint conceit from generations past.

Perhaps the way we see ourselves requires some adjustment after all this.

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Former cabinet minister Andy Scott was once assaulted by an angry man who threatened to kill him. When Mr. Scott recovered and returned to work, he told the media that he considered the attack an aberration and, in his opinion, "This isn't what Canada is about."

But is it now? Soldiers run over and one killed in Quebec. A soldier shot and killed in Ottawa. Gunfire exchanged in the Centre Block …

"You see it happen all around the world," Ottawa Senators assistant captain Chris Phillips had said after his team's morning skate.

"You never think of it happening in your own backyard."

Eighteen months ago, Mr. Phillips and his teammates had another game cancelled when two homemade bombs killed three people and injured 264 at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Weather is supposed to cancel hockey games – not murder.

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"Hockey is where we live," Hall-of-Fame NHL coach Fred Shero used to tell his players, "where we can best meet and overcome pain and wrong and death. Life is just a place where we spend time between games."

Before Wednesday morning in Ottawa, that "life" was about afternoon naps and pasta meals and postgame beers, not about the team you are supposed to play being trapped in a downtown hotel, not about your children being locked down in their schools and the streets filled with screaming police and ambulance sirens.

Having lived in Ottawa since 1997, Mr. Phillips and his wife, Erin, have raised their three children here. As he said, "I think we all feel pretty safe and have a sense of security playing in Canada."

But not so much any longer. Not after this.

"It's pretty scary."

Scary today and, sadly, scary from now on.

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