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A fresh take on pomp and circumstance Add to ...

Michaëlle Jean became Canada's 27th Governor-General yesterday in a vibrant yet poignant ceremony that reflected her youthfulness and the country's growing diversity and spoke to a fresh approach to the usually staid viceregal post.

She confronted lingering questions about her commitment to Canada, declaring that she loved the country and that the "time of the two solitudes" is past.

Simply dressed in a white blouse, black jacket and long black skirt, Ms. Jean was accompanied by her filmmaker husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and their six-year-old daughter, Marie-Eden, at the Parliament Hill festivities. She was at times emotional, nervous and clearly overjoyed.

Ms. Jean, 48, is the first black woman to serve as Canada's head of state and one of the youngest to hold the office. She is also one of the few governors-general who is not a member of the Canadian establishment, living until recently in a renovated home in a working class area of Montreal.

All of that -- her beauty and youthfulness, her energy, her early years in Haiti and her life in her adopted homeland -- was reflected in an installation ceremony that ran more than an hour over schedule and was remarkable for its common touch, enthusiasm and fun.

There was the usual pomp and circumstance -- the 21-gun salute, military bands and an honour guard -- but there was also a rollicking gospel choir from Montreal to which the new Governor-General danced and clapped, along with a beaming Prime Minister Paul Martin, who did so rather awkwardly. A step-dancing, fiddle-playing quintet from Cape Breton performed in the Centre Block's Hall of Honour as did circus performers.

The diverse crowd of more than 500 people packed into the Senate chamber included friends and relatives as well as Supreme Court judges, diplomats and many current and former MPs and senators.

Her father, Roger Anthony Jean, declared he was "very, very, very proud."

Never in "one million years" did he think he would be the father of the head of state of his adopted country, he said before bursting into hearty laughter. "During the ceremony, I cried. I said, 'I am maybe dreaming.' "

Ms. Jean's predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson, was there, too. It is rare for a former governor-general to attend the swearing in of his or her successor. But Ms. Clarkson, and her husband, John Ralston Saul, received two sustained standing ovations and were thanked warmly by the Prime Minister. They hugged and kissed Ms. Jean and Mr. Lafond.

All of this was broadcast live on the CTV network, another departure from past practice. The CBC has locked out its employees, who set up information pickets at the entrances to Parliament Hill. Ms. Jean, a former Radio-Canada journalist gave picketers a thumbs-up when she passed by.

And then there was her speech -- subtly political but never crossing the line, hopeful and poignant.

"The time of the two solitudes that for too long described the character of this country is past," she said. "The narrow notion of every person for himself does not belong in today's world, which demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all," she said. "Quite the contrary: We must eliminate the spectre of all the solitudes and promote solidarity among all the citizens who make up the Canada of today."

Breaking the solitudes will be one of Ms. Jean's key objectives as Governor-General, her office said. Her new coat of arms includes the motto, "Briser Les Solitudes" (Breaking Down Solitudes) and features two black mermaids blowing conch shells. The mermaids are said to symbolize the role played by women in advancing social justice.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who sat with the other opposition leaders in the Senate, disagreed with Ms. Jean's analysis on Quebec. "I would say that most of the speech I share the same kind of values she offered to Canadians and Quebeckers concerning democracy, helping Third World countries, things like that," he said. "Concerning the two solitudes, I think the two solitudes will exist or are still existing."

Ms. Jean was clearly nervous as she entered the Parliament Buildings. She cried as singers Julie Massicotte and Lynda Thalie performed " à la beauté du monde," a hymn warning against killing the "beauty of the world" before her swearing-in ceremony.

Ms. Jean was composed when she entered the chamber with her husband. Their daughter sat in the front row with her tutor, Danielle Desmers, who will travel with her when Marie-Eden accompanies her parents on trips.

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