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Fear Not: Why I Took My Five-Year-Old on a Tour of Parliament

10/28/2014 12:42 EDT | Updated 12/28/2014 05:59 EST
Joshua Ostroff

When my son and I stepped onto Parliament Hill Monday morning, he was immediately drawn to the centennial flame and its seemingly miraculous ability to stay lit despite the fire emerging from a water fountain.

Being five, Emile didn't understand that it was intended as a metaphor for the enduring nature of our nation -- or that right now its metaphor felt extended to encompass our endurance in the face of a tragic attack that had happened right here just five days earlier.

Having attended university in Ottawa and lived nearby Parliament Hill, I spent a fair amount of time in the 1990s just hanging around on our government's sprawling lawn, reading books, having picnics, throwing Frisbees.

The flame burned the same then and as it did now and I didn't want anything else to change about Parliament Hill, either. The goal of a terrorist attack is never the attack itself but to scare us into changing our behaviour in its aftermath, and I don't want my son raised in a world where such fear tactics succeed.

Which was why we found ourselves here, intending to continue with my plan to take Emile on a tour of the Parliament Buildings -- or "the castle," as he called it -- a plan which I'd assumed cancelled until I read Sunday night that the public tours were going to be re-opened.

E didn't know what had happened, at least not yet as I was planning to wait until our subsequent visit to the flower-flooded war memorial so as not to adversely impact his experience.

The tours reopened about an hour before we got our tickets. I was asked for ID and received a light pat-down, neither of which would have seemed out of place before what had happened. As we walked through the entrance, hand-in-little hand, it felt unbelievable that this beautiful building had just come under a brazen armed attack.

But it had, and based on our somber faces it was on everyone's mind though it remained unspoken -- and the tour guide requested we keep it that way. She opened up with her usual jokes -- "I will ask that you try and walk on the left-hand side of the hallway. In the immortal words of Beyonce, to the left, to the left" -- and reminded us to stick together and that food and drink is not permitted, but soon addressed the elephant in the historic room.

"Also, of course, as some of you know or have seen in recent media, there was something that did take place on October 22 here in the building and it affected a lot of people here on the Hill -- parliamentarians and guides alike. As there is an ongoing investigation, throughout the tour I won't be discussing anything that had to do with what happened here on that day. We just ask that you respect that."

Though there was a discernible murmur that arose as our group passed the door to the Office of the Sergeant of Arms, we all pretended that the last time we'd viewed these hallways hadn't been via that surreal Globe and Mail footage.

We respected the request to return to the old normal. Emile was amazed by the parliamentary library, built in 1876 in a high Gothic style and now housing a million documents. ("How do they even get the books all the way up there?!?") He didn't notice the bullet hole in the library doorway, though others did.

He marvelled at seeing an actual royal throne in the senate, stared at the stained glass and enjoyed the Speaker of the House parading through the halls to open Monday's House of Commons session.

Then Emile and I rode the elevator to the observation deck of the Peace Tower, taking our time taking in the sights. He tried to spot our hotel room at the Chateau Laurier, informed strangers that everyone across the river says "brossez les dents" and gleefully pointed out the flame down below that had first so excited him.

Of course, down past the flame, across Wellington Street, was a reminder that all was not really as it was. So we descended down and slowly walked over to the war memorial which was surrounded by quiet visitors. Emile asked if all the flowers were for the "soldiers who died in war when they wanted peace?" I told him abut the memorial itself, and then explained, as vaguely as I could, what had happened last Wednesday.

"Why did the bad guy come here?" he asked. "I don't know, hon." Then he pointed at the two honour guard soldiers with their bayonets, and the black-clad police holding modern assault rifles. "Why do they have guns? If the bad guy comes back here?"

"They got the bad guy," I replied. "He's not coming back."

That seemed to assuage Emile's concern, and so he went back to examining the flowers, teddy bears and other memorial items strewn across the site. He accidentally knocked off a red poppy that had been pinned to one of the bouquets, went down on his knees and carefully placed it back like it was the most important job in the world.

Then Emile grabbed my hand and we walked away.

josh

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