VICTORIA, Canada, Oct 30, 2009 (AFP) - Canadians got their first look at the Olympic flame as it touched down here marking the official start of the 106-day Vancouver Olympic torch relay across the second-largest country in the world.
It was the first time the flame has been on Canadian soil since 1988 when Calgary hosted the Winter Games and it was a gold medal athlete from those Olympics, speedskater, Catriona Le May Doan, who was the first female torchbearer.
The Canadian military jet arrived 90 minutes late at Victoria International Airport with 75 people, including Olympic officials, politicians, dignitaries and journalists on board.
The 14-hour flight from Greece included a stopover in Iceland before landing in British Columbia's capital city of Victoria, 69 kilometres (43 miles) southwest of Vancouver.
"The Olympics is such an inspiration across the country," said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "This is Canada's moment on the world stage to introduce all the great things we have as Canadians."
The 45,000 kilometre (27,968 mile) torch relay will see the flame carried across Canada by water, land and air before it arrives in Vancouver which will host the 2010 Winter Games from February 12-28.
The flame arrived in a miner's lamp and was carried off the airplane by Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson. When he got to the bottom of the ramp he gently placed it on the tarmac leaving it there for several seconds before picking it up.
"Victoria is the first Canadian city to have the flame and we have long anticipated this day across Canada. It is now time to light up our country," Robertson said.
There was also a moment of silence for Jack Poole, the former chairman of the Vancouver organizing committee who died last week just hours before the flame was lit in Olympia, Greece.
The relay will be run by 12,000 torchbearers before making its way to the Vancouver Olympic cauldron.
During a outdoor ceremony at the airport, Robertson handed the flame over to the Premier of the province of British Columbia Gordon Campbell.
"This is the beginning of what will be an incredible time for Canada," Campbell said. "Our job now is to reflect the spirit of this flame into the heart of all Canadians."
Said John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver organizing committee, who was also on the plane, "It is great for us all to be home from this exciting adventure.
"Our hope is this flame will shine a bright light on our people and country. This is for all Canadians young and old, no one left out. For 106 days we will have the time of our life."
Joining Le May Doan as the first torchbearer was Victoria triathlete Simon Whitfield who won a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games.
The flame is supposed never to go out but ironically one of the few times it happened was during a torch relay in Canada prior to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. A relay official had to re-light the flame with a cigarette lighter.
By the time the flame arrives at BC Place Stadium on the 12th it will have visited over 1,000 Canadian communities and will have travelled the farthest north in its history.