#Flag50: The day the National Anthem meant more

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By Brodie Lawson

The Canadian flag holds its own unique meaning for each one of us, and for many people that meaning was brought to the forefront in 2014.
Corporal Nathan Cirillo was murdered at the War Memorial October 22nd, a day that will forever haunt Canadians. It was yet another “remember where were you when” moment, as our Nation was still mourning Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

While the country was still raw and reeling from the loss, the CFL brought Canadians together for a football game.  Only two days after the tragedy had enveloped our nation, people gathered in Ottawa, for sport, yes, but also for collective mourning.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS were set to play the Montreal Alouettes and REDBLACKS Vice President of Communications Randy Burgess remarks, “Being in Canada’s capital and having the first CFL game after the tragedy at the cenotaph, we felt we had a responsibility to help Canadians recover from a terrorist action.  Towards that end we planned out a ceremony that would tell Canadians that we can stand together in defiance of terrorism and we as Canadians are one people ready to move on”

The REDBLACKS called on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to ask if they could borrow their Canadian flag, said to be the largest Canadian flag in the world. Honoured to help, the Ticats sent staff to Ottawa to deliver the flag and help organize its unveiling. How fitting it was that the flag was to come from Steeltown, the home of the fallen Cpl. Cirillo.

Adele Gatto was one of three Hamilton Tiger-Cats employees who drove the flag to Ottawa.

“We felt that along our drive we were bringing a piece of Hamilton to honour Nathan,” Gatto said.

The field was beautifully and perfectly covered with the flag. It takes 150 people to hold the flag in place and for this ceremony it was the service men and women, the Ottawa Gee-Gees football team, and the Montreal Alouettes and the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

I’m told there was no question that both teams wanted to participate and hold the flag. The players and coaches were clear though- they didn’t want to separate the teams, and have them stand on either side of the flag. The REDBLACKS and Alouettes were interspersed around the flag, standing not as teams, but as one group, as one nation.

Although there was confusion and a sense of disbelief about what had happened that October morning, Canadians stood together to show that they would not be shaken by evil. But what exactly did that mean? In many ways it meant going back to the routines of daily life and not allowing terror to weaken us.

Canadians were united because in a way it felt like we had all lost a child, a brother, a best friend; he was a Canadian comrade. We mourned for his family, his friends, his son, even his sweet dog that awaited his return. We were mourning, together, relying on that great Canadian strength.

In sports there is something significant about gathering as a collective. CFL football is a beloved past time and a cherished escape and we experience it as one, and that is the great beauty of sport. Usually we gather to cheer and to celebrate, but that day we gathered, at least in part, to heal; appropriately surrounding those bold stripes and that red maple leaf.

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