Kate McKenzie


I’ve been in places before where attacks have happened. I know the drill, stay away from crowded or highly political spaces. But when the attack happened in Toronto I had a dilemma, I work in the heart of downtown at the busiest intersection in Canada. 

As I walked to work, I thought about all those who had been walking to work yesterday, also on Yonge street, just further north of me. They had no idea the tragedy that would hit them. I thought about all those who have come to our country fleeing violence who witnessed the attack yesterday. It must be aweful to wonder if this new country you have arrived in is any safer than the one you left. To feel unsafe in your home is overwhelming. 

I don’t want to live in fear. 

When I approached the busy intersection I couldn’t help but look around for vehicles speeding, for unusual activity, for any indication that the violence our city witnessed yesterday might happen again. 

That’s when I noticed a sign. It was handmade with hearts, smiley faces and peace symbols illustrated on it. It stood out in the sea of people. On it was a simple message: “Free Hugs.”

Young man named Christian holding “Free Hugs” sign at Yonge & Dundas intersection in Toronto.

On a day when I felt nervous about going to work, here was someone who had the courage to stand at the intersection all day and offer free hugs. I went over and chatted with him. His name was Christian. He wanted to remind Toronto that we were not defined by one negative act, that we could find the positive. In a time of fear when many might choose to pull away, he was inviting us to come together, embrace and find strength in community. 

I left feeling hopeful.

By Kate McKenzie

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