OTTAWA — The Queen, one of the most enduring symbols of Canadian heritage, helped ring in the nation's 143rd birthday Thursday in a joyful bookend to the spirit of patriotism and community that coursed through the Vancouver Olympic Games.
She did not attend the 2010 Games in February, but what Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip saw on the grounds of Parliament Hill would have given them a good idea of the atmosphere. Many of the gleeful 100,000 who gathered to celebrate Canada Day wore the red-and-white gear that was a uniform during those heady days of the Games.
The crowd roared when the Queen made an adroit reference to Canada winning the gold at the Games.
"As well as renewing a sense of common purpose within this country, the Olympics showed to others something of the extraordinary warmth and enthusiasm of the people as Canada welcomed participants and audiences from around the globe," she said in a speech. She was last on Parliament Hill in 1997.
"In many ways, Canada proudly affirms its place on the international scene, facing the future with confidence."
The Queen had arrived in an open, horse-drawn landau wearing a red chiffon dress with a diamond Maple Leaf brooch, and a white hat with red flower. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wife Laureen, children Ben and Rachel, and Heritage Minister James Moore greeted her along the red carpet that snaked along her route.
To signal her presence, the 84-year-old monarch's own special flag was run up the Peace Tower, and a ear-splitting 21-gun salute began on one side of Parliament Hill.
She inspected a Guard of Honour dressed in their scarlet uniforms and bearskin hats, and listened to the Air Command Pipe and Drums as they marched past playing The Maple Leaf Forever. Nervous seven-year-old Katie Gibbons, wearing her orange brownie uniform and sash of hard-earned badges, handed the Queen a bouquet of flowers.
"It was really cool meeting the Queen," is what Gibbons said she would tell her friends.
Canadians from across the country, and visitors from much further afield, lined her route waving Canadian flags and shooting furiously with their digital cameras and cellphones. Even a few vuvuzelas, the loud horns made famous during this year's World Cup of soccer, appeared on the Hill.
Sue Anderson of Ottawa had managed to get a front-row vista, after helpful bystanders helped her hoist her wheelchair in place behind the barricades.
"I used to be a paramedic, and I was assigned to the Queen's ambulance in 1982 when she signed the Constitution," Anderson recalled. "We had to be out of sight so we didn't get to see anything, but Prince Philip came over with a flask and gave us all some tea. Isn't that exciting? It's time for us to watch this again, up close and personal."
The guests of honour took their seats atop the enormous mainstage in front of the Peace Tower, one that had taken two weeks to set up. It was more elaborate than usual, featuring multiple tiers and LED screens that flashed pictures and colours throughout the midday show.
Veteran actor Christopher Plummer, Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean and Quebec TV personality Geneviève Borne served as hosts of the show. Artists such as the Barenaked Ladies, Isabelle Boulay, and Johnny Reid performed for the royal couple and the enthusiastic crowd.
Harper thanked the Queen for her visit, and noted the international spotlight that Canada has been under in 2010, with the Olympics, the G20 and G8 meetings, and its strong economic position.
— The Canadian Press