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Basking in the glow of history

In city squares or school gymnasiums, Canadians gathered to bask in the reflected glow of history south of the border today.

In Toronto, they huddled in the heart of the city, at Dundas and Yonge Streets, braving temperatures of –4F (-20C) to watch on giant screens the first African-American to become president. In a movie theater nearby, hundreds celebrated at an event hosted by the Toronto chapter of Democrats Abroad.

In the Atlantic coast city of Halifax, where many blacks are descendents of 18th century British loyalists who fled from the American colonies fighting British rule, classes were stopped at Nelson Whynder Elementary so that children could watch Barack Obama sworn in. It was a scene that filled television screens in classrooms and school gyms across Canada.

At the official level, congratulations to Obama came from acting head of state, Michaelle Jean, Canada’s first black Governor General.

“Let us all rejoice in the wave of hope that is filling our hearts,” she said, adding that Canadians are “thrilled that Canada will soon welcome (Obama) here on his first foreign visit.”

Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal party, the main opposition to Canada’s Conservative government, said Obama’s inspirational words are a challenge to Canadians as well as Americans.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Obama’s given a jolt to the entire political system, and he’s saying to us: ‘Raise your game.’”

James Travers, a political columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper, had similar thoughts for Canadians shortly before the swearing in.

“It's tempting to see the best of ourselves in the politics of the man who is to become the 44th president today. He personifies inclusivity at home, multilateralism abroad and an American renaissance of high intellect over base instinct.

“Uplifting as that is for the majority of Canadians who say they would have cast ballots for Obama if they only could, those values are not trend points on this country's current trajectory. Canada's politics are as listless as they are polarized — more voters stayed home in the last election than supported the victorious Conservative minority.”

Canada’s state-owned CBC Radio has dedicated songs to Obama, chosen by Canadians. They are called “49 Songs from North of the 49th Parallel.

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