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first-hand accounts

Spectators at a soccer match between France and Germany at the Stade de France react upon hearing news of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.Adam Pretty

James Nicholson, a 47-year-old father of three from Oakville, Ont., in Paris on business, first noticed something was amiss while he was in the subway near his Montparnasse hotel around 8 p.m.

Officials were talking on walkie-talkies "and seemed a bit frantic." Then on his way back from dinner with two colleagues from Microsoft, one of them got a text message about a shooting in Paris. They didn't think much of it – at first. "We thought it was maybe just a robbery or a gang thing," Mr. Nicholson recalled in an interview here as Paris was under attack on Friday.

Then his colleague's girlfriend and father called. They heard the sirens and saw the emergency cars on the road and the police looking, as he put it, "agitated."

Back at their hotel in the Montparnasse area, across the Seine from the focus of the attacks, they were feeling tense. "I don't know if I feel more comfortable here or elsewhere. There is definitely a sense of unease even right here in the hotel. There are people in the lobby, gathering around TVs and on their phones." Mr. Nicholson said his eight-year-old daughter called, and she was "crying her eyes out."

Other Canadians in Paris also found themselves caught up in the horrible drama.

Mike Miltmore from Kamloops was eating dinner at a restaurant in the French capital when shots rang out nearby.

"Police came in with machine guns and everything like that, and they were shooing everyone out into the streets," he told CFJC Radio in Kamloops. "It's actually a little scary when you don't know what's going on."

The restaurant was evacuated and Mr. Miltmore was sent to his hotel room blocks away.

Amelia Aspen and her husband arrived home at their Paris apartment around the time the attacks began.

"We got a message from a friend saying, 'Something is going on in your neighbourhood, stay inside your apartment,' and we did," said the artist, who moved to Paris from Edmonton with her husband in October.

Ms. Aspen said the couple have been watching what's happening on the news and hearing a lot of sirens.

The French borders were closed, President François Hollande had declared a state of emergency and authorities were advising everyone to stay home. Mr. Nicholson and his colleagues, though, were hoping they would be able to leave as scheduled on Saturday morning, flying directly to Toronto.

"You hope these things are minor," he said, as they gathered in the hotel lobby to head to the airport. "But the magnitude … is shocking. I think we are all just reeling from this news."

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