Over the last few weeks, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games brought this country together in ways that few people could have imagined.

“But we’re only at the halfway point,” said VANOC CEO John Furlong, at a ceremony to kick off the Paralympic torch relay on Parliament Hill yesterday.

The 10-day relay takes the flame east into Quebec before making stops in Toronto and then onto British Columbia for the opening ceremonies in Vancouver on March 12.

The motto for the relay is, “Spark becomes Flame.”

That flame, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday, should make all Canadians very proud. It is that same flame that brought the country together and inspired athletes to bring in a national record medal haul and set a new standard for gold medals at a Winter Games by any country, he said.

“In Canada, sports matter, the Olympic Games matter, the Paralympic Games matter, and you are making our country proud,” Harper said. “Make us proud all over again.”

Unlike the Olympic flame, the Paralympic flame has no ancestral home, said International Paralympic Committee president Sir Phillip Craven.

“It’s generated by Paralympians, games officials, volunteers, staff and spectators in which country the games are taking place,” he said.

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