OTTAWA, Canada -- In a glittering ceremony on the rolling lawns of Parliament Hill, Queen Elizabeth signed a royal decree Saturday severing Canada's last colonial ties to Britain and giving Canadians their own constitution for the first time.
At 11:37 a.m. EST, just before the sky split open to release a heavy rain, the queen signed 'Elizabeth R' to a 300-word proclamation bringing into force the 1982 Constitution Act to replace the British law that has served as Canada's constitution since it became a dominion in 1867.
RCMP estimated a minimum of 30,000 people poured onto the front lawns alone, while thousands more lined the streets to catch a glipse of the queen and Prince Philip as they arrived at the legislative buildings.
pickup3rdgraf: At 11:37 a.m.
All of Canada save Quebec, which has warned the new constitution will force the French province to secession, celebrated the fact.
A crowd of more than 100,000 people massed on the 29-acre Parliament Hill site to witness history. The pomp and pageantry of the queen's severing of Canada's last colonial links to Britain was broadast live to an audience of 24 million.
The new constitution for America's neighbor was effective at 12:01 a.m. EST Sunday.
In a warm gesture, the United States raised the Canadian Maple Leaf on the U.S. Embassy across from Parliament Hill. It was the first time a flag other than the Stars and Stripes had flown over that Embassy.
In their nationwide addresses, the queen and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau both noted Quebec Premier Rene Levesque's warnings that the constitution willpush the French-speaking province into secession.
'Although we regret the absence of the premier of Quebec, it is right to associate the people of Quebec with this celebration because, without them, Canada would not be what it is today,' Queen Elizabeth said.
Trudeau, 62, said he was confident the 'silent majority' will win out over Quebec's objections and use the constitution to strengthen all of Canada.
'By definition, the silent majority does not make a lot of noise, it is content to make history,' the prime minister said on his day of triumph.
The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, rode to Parliament Hill in an open, century-old landau drawn by four black horses.
The huge crowd lining the flag-bedecked cavalcade route cheered on the royal couple as they passed under a scarlet-coated escort of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The royal standard fluttered in a stiff wind from the 23-foot-high stone Peace Tower, the centrepiece of Parliament and a monument to Canada's war dead. A flock of racing pigeons -- substituting for scarce doves -- was released to soar upward.
A 21-gun salute boomed out over the Ottawa River by the 30th field regiment. A fanfare was trumpeted by the Royal Canadian Artilley Bands and the royal salute, 'God Save the Queen,' was played by the Royal Regiment Band.
The overcast sky split to release a drenching rain as the queen began her address, but it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the huge flag-waving crowd before the covered, red-carpeted dais. The Canadian Armed Forces precision squadron 'The Snowbirds' screamed overhead in a nine-jet fly-by.
Referring to Quebec again in her 5-minute speech, the queen noted that 'differences persist. In this vast and vigorous land, they always will.
'The genius of Canadian federalism, however, lies in your consistent ability to overcome differences through reason and compromise,' she said.
In Montreal, an estimated 15,000 people responded to the Parti Quebecois government's call for Quebecers to march through the streets to protest the constitution.
Quebec refused to endorse the constitution accepted by the other nine Canadian provinces because it does not recognize Canada as 'two distinct societies' -- French and English -- or give Quebec full power over language and educational matters.
'It is a constitution which belongs to English Canada,' Quebec Vice-Premier Jacques-Yvan Morin said. 'So much the better if they rejoice, but there is nothing for us to rejoice about.''
In Montreal, an estimated 15,000 people responded to the Parti Quebecois' call for Quebecers to march through the streets to protest the constitution and display the fleur-de-lis flag in a show of pride in French Quebec.
Leading the two-mile march was Quebec Vice-Premier Jacques-Yvan Morin, who has condemned the constitution as 'illegitimate' because it 'reduces Quebec's distinct character and entrenches inequality between English and French Canada.'
Quebec refused to join the other nine provinces in endorsing the constitution because it did not recognize Canada as 'two distinct societies' -- French and English -- or give Quebec power over linguistic and educational matters.
'It is a constitution which belongs to English Canada,' Morin said. 'So much the better if they rejoice, but there is nothing for us to rejoice about.'
In her nationwide address, however, the queen told all Canadians the new constitution should be regarded as only a foundation on which they can work together to strengthen the country.
'We must realize ... that no law by itself cancreate or maintain a free society or a united society, or a fair society,' she said.
'It is the commitment of the people that alone can transform a printed constitution or charter into a living and dynamic reality.
'The strength of Canada's new constitution lies not in the words it contains, but in the foundation upon which it rests, the desire of the people of Canada that their country remain strong and united.
'That spirit, however assailed it may have been through the years by differences and rivalries, has endured, making the nation a model of freedom, good sense and democracy.'
Canada's development has been the envy of the world since her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, gave assent March 29, 1867, to the British North America Act, the monarch said.
But, she added, the BNA act 'could not have anticipated the conditions of national life in 1982 and beyond. The new constitution will usher Canada into a new era and allow Canadians to adapt to 'changing needs and circumstances.'
'Change and movement are essential signs of life,' said the queen, speaking in both English and French.
'It is fitting, therefore, that the main features of Canada's new constitution should be that it strengthens the rights of its people, while establishing a process of amendment which will make needed changes easier to accomplish than they were in the past.'
The queen also lauded the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms which are now enshrined in the new constitution.
'I am glad to see that the equality of women is accorded full respect, that disabled persons are protected against discrimination, and that the rights of the aboriginal people are recognized, with full opportunity for further definition.'
Queen Elizabeth noted a 'historical relationship' between the British royal family and Canada's native people.
'I am therefore particularly pleased that this innate respect for fellow Canadians is also reflected in the willingness of the national and provincial governments to consult with the representatives of native peoples and to work out solutions to longstanding problems of rights and opportunities.'