FIELD, B.C. - It was a modest scene in the midst of the grandeur of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains - a few dozen spectators stood by the side of the Trans-Canada Highway on Thursday and cheered as the Olympic flame crossed its last provincial boundary.

But for the Alberta political legend and the British Columbia sports hero who conducted the transfer, the emotion of the moment was as big as the peaks surrounding them at Kicking Horse Pass.

"When I was getting into the van, my stomach knotted up like it was the Grey Cup game," admitted Wally Buono, head coach of the B.C. Lions.

Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed said passing the torch to Buono made him feel like he was handing the Olympic Games over to the people of British Columbia on behalf of all Albertans.

"It's really symbolic at this border right now," said Lougheed, 81, who walked most of his leg but could not resist breaking out into a trot for the last few metres.

In 1988, Lougheed helped bid for and organize the Calgary Winter Olympics.

"It's great we had our time, we had our Games in '88, and I think it's terrific that we now are passing the torch."

It was a special moment, too, for B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who was among the hearty group standing out in the middle of nowhere to mark the beginning of the torch's final three-week journey to Vancouver.

"This is a great event that is unifying Canada," he said. "I think actually it will be a great launching pad into the 21st century for us."

The torched moved from the isolated side of the road to a mob scene as excited residents of Golden, B.C. turned out to welcome it to the province.

"It's about time," laughed kindergarten teacher Ruth Finnie. "We've been waiting for it since it left."

The anticipation of the Games have transformed the kids in her class, she said. When they head to the local arena for skating lessons each week, they focus and are sure they're going to grow up to take Olympic gold for their country some day.

"They all think they're experts now," said Finnie, who sported a balloon hat in the shape of the Olympic rings.

"It helped the kids think that anything could happen and that they can reach for the sky. It's thrilling."

Sixteen-year-old Devon Turner said he was "stoked" by the feeling of community the torch brought to the community.

"Honestly, I didn't know our town had this many people," said Turner, who had 2010 painted across his face.

"My voice is getting really sore from yelling so much."

A handful of protesters stood in the crowd waving signs and chanting whenever politicians took the stage, but they were shouted down by those who yelled counterslogans in support of the Games.

The flame will ignite the Olympic cauldron on Feb. 12, officially signalling the start of the 2010 Winter Games.

The torch set out from Victoria on Oct. 30, then moved north and east before looping around and heading back west again, criss-crossing from cities to towns to rural and northern parts of Canada.

Jim Richards, the director of the torch relay, said Canadians have responded "beautifully" to the torch's journey and message that these are Canada's Games.

He said he had been eager to see it back on B.C. soil.

"We're in B.C., we're on our way home now. It's real," he said, admitting it was an emotional and energizing milestone.

Before heading into the Rockies, the torch spent three days in and around Calgary, the site of the only other Winter Olympics in Canadian history.

Thousands of people turned out to welcome it, many wearing their own torchbearer uniforms from 22 years earlier.

They said seeing the flame made them realize the Games were almost about to begin.

"Vancouver's going to be a great Games," said torchbearer Bill France, who was a vice-president involved with planning the 1988 Games.

"They've worked very hard over the last several years, they've got a great staff, once again a great volunteer contingent, they'll be very successful in 2010."

In all, the torch relay has been set to last 106 days, making it the longest domestic relay, travelling 45,000 kilometres and including 12,000 torchbearers.

It next heads down through the B.C. interior before moving north to Prince Rupert and travelling by ferry toward Vancouver.

Lougheed said Alberta gained so much by hosting the Games 22 years ago, and he's excited to see B.C. take on that legacy.

"It means a lot to a province to host the Olympic Games," he said.

"It gets people in a very positive mood about their country, first, about their province and of course about the city itself, and it's very much in that order."

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