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Canada A strike at Ottawa’s War Memorial, ‘Canada’s heart’

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial near the War Memorial where Corporal Nathan Cirillo was standing guard when he was shot. Cirillo later died from his injuries.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

For 75 years, Ottawa's War Memorial has towered over Confederation Boulevard, a granite-and-bronze arch dedicated to soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for this country.

That this would be the place an armed man would choose to shoot and kill Corporal Nathan Cirillo on Wednesday morning as he stood guard over the monument added a disturbing symbolism to what was already a horrific attack.

"The memorial speaks to her world of Canada's heart," King George VI said when he unveiled the monument in 1939. "Something deeper than chivalry is portrayed. It is the spontaneous response of the nation's conscience. The very soul of the nation is here revealed."

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Designed by English sculptor Vernon Marsh, the memorial – which was dubbed the "Great Response of Canada" and includes bronzed figures of a group of people leaving for the First World War – was completed to honour the Canadians who went off to fight.

In 2000, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added in front of the main cenotaph, and the memorial as a whole become a symbol for expressing gratitude to all soldiers who serve the country.

The monument is a gathering place every Remembrance Day for veterans from across the country. Each Nov. 11, the streets surrounding the memorial just off Parliament Hill are crammed for the annual parade of veterans.

It has also made headlines in recent years. In 2006, a young man was photographed urinating on it on Canada Day, prompting a decision by the federal government to guard it.

It was this decision that brought the Hamilton-born Cpl. Cirillo to Ottawa, to fulfill a short rotation in the city standing guard by the memorial.

"This memorial, however, does more than commemorate a great event in the past," King George said on May 21, 1939. "It has a message for all generations and for all countries…Without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace no enduring freedom."

By the numbers:

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1925: The year a world-wide competition was held to come up with the design for the new monument. A total of 127 entries were received from architects, sculptors and artists around the world.

60,000: The approximate number of Canadians who were killed in the First World War, of the almost 620,000 who enlisted. Another 172,000 were injured.

45,000: The approximate number of Canadians killed in the Second World War.

516: Number of Canadians killed in the Korean War.

120,000: The number of United Nations peacekeeping troops Canada has sent abroad in recent years.

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