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Canada Honouring the fallen one year after the attack on Parliament Hill

Sentry guards stand at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier during a remembrance at The National War Memorial October 22, 2015 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/Dave Chan

It was the perfect day for some welcome healing – a warm, midautumn sun, mostly blue skies and a gentle breeze.

The specific occasion was to pay tribute to the average citizens and first responders who raced to help, but could not, one year ago; to the police and security personnel who risked their own lives to protect others – but most of all to the two soldiers who were hunted down and killed for reasons that will forever escape.

The larger occasion brought together the country's three most significant personalities of the moment: Stephen Harper, the current Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, the prime-minister-designate and David Johnston, the Governor-General who will hand power from Mr. Harper to Mr. Trudeau on Nov. 4.

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Mr. Trudeau, whose Liberal Party won a majority government on Monday following a torturous 78-day election that often annoyed Canadians, had promised a return to "sunny ways," reaching back more than a century to borrow a message first carried by a previous Liberal prime minister, Wilfrid Laurier.

Laurier also once said that "in the deepest part of the forest beats the heart of a country," but not this sunny day in downtown Ottawa. This day, on the pavement and concrete found at the corner of Elgin and Wellington streets, far from any forest, the heart of the country surrounded the National War Memorial as thousands marked the first anniversary of the deadly Parliament Hill attack that killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he stood silent guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Two days earlier, in the Quebec town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, another attacker – both of them embraced Islamic extremism, neither of them need be named here – ran down and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Cpl. Cirillo was 24, WO Vincent 53.

With their families present, with a 21-gun salute echoing across the Ottawa River toward the orange hills of Gatineau and with a CF-18 flypast in the "missing man" formation, the two fallen soldiers were honoured with wreaths and tributes and prayers.

By far the most compelling moment was the simple wreath jointly laid by Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau, who then silently returned to their chairs, separated only by Laureen Harper, quickly shook hands and then bowed their heads in whatever private thoughts such a week and such a tragedy brought.

A year ago, after the attacker had cowardly shot Cpl. Cirillo in the back – ordinary citizens desperately trying to save the young soldier in the minutes before paramedics could get there – the attacker had raced to Parliament Hill. Once there, he bounded up the steps below the Peace Tower and barged into the Centre Block, wounding a security guard who tried to intercept him and unleashing a series of rifle shots that terrified Hill workers and politicians in caucus before he was himself brought down in a hail of bullets.

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Kevin Vickers, the Canadian ambassador to Ireland who was then sergeant-at-arms for the House of Commons, was one of those who put a quick end to the attack, thereby saving countless other lives.

"Today," Mr. Vickers tweeted from Ireland as the ceremony took place, "my thoughts and prayers are with Kathy Cirillo, Nathan's mom, all HoC& Senate Security, RCMP, Ottawa Police.

"Salute all those who perf so many selfless acts of unmeasurable courage standing and defending the values of all Canadians."

It was said a year ago that Canadian "innocence" was a third fatality, and in many ways it was. Although this country has its own difficult history of internal disruption, and although this country had a century earlier set out into the world at large to go to war, this was Canada's reckoning with the deeper troubles of the world. It's not always "over there." As Andrew Cohen put it in Thursday's Citizen, it wasn't so much a loss of innocence as it was a loss of ignorance, the end of a quaint Canadian conceit that we are somehow insulated from those things in the world we do not like.

Governor-General Johnston took issue with the notion that, as of Oct. 22, 2014, everything changed and nothing will ever be the same again.

"I don't think Canada changed forever," he told the crowd. "Canadians are a caring and a courageous people. This is who we are – and that will not change.

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"Warrant Officer Vincent and Corporal Cirillo stood up for our democratic values of tolerance, of diversity, of equality, of fairness and of the rule of law, by which I mean the constant, relentless pursuit of justice.

"This is who we are."

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