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Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Canada Day celebrants on Parliament Hill on July, 1, 2013.FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister covered the expected topics – the military, the Arctic and an encouraging shout-out to the people of Calgary struggling to recover from the flood. Pop idol Carly Rae Jepsen performed her hit song, Call Me Maybe, with the crowd serving as choir. But there's nothing like a homegrown singing astronaut to really capture the Canada Day spirit.

"It was like singing along by a campfire with a bunch of friends," Chris Hadfield said, after performing the song Is Somebody Singing with a local youth choir on Parliament Hill before a crowd of thousands. Mr. Hadfield's retirement from the Canadian Space Agency takes effect July 3, now that he has completed his mission on the International Space Station. That journey, he said, gave him a deeper perspective of Canada's place in the world, both figuratively and literally. "You see Winnipeg, and then 20 minutes later a city in Africa and then a city in Asia. You start to realize it's just a whole bunch of us… It sounds trite, but it's true."

In his speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to the flood relief efforts in southern Alberta. "What an example they set," he said. "When floods forced so many from their homes, communities dug deep, neighbours helped neighbours and people sheltered complete strangers. That's the spirit that makes Canada the best country in the world.

Drawing attention to the symbolism of the Peace Tower, and the accomplishment of Mr. Hadfield, he closed his speech with a quote from the late Stompin' Tom Connors: "Be the Patriot Canada needs."

People packed Parliament Hill for the hour-long noon show, dutifully dressed in red and white. Some were baffled, then, by the flock of blue and green flags decorating the stage, not knowing what they were supposed to represent. "It's not very red and white up there," said Jim Barton, who was more than filling his quota of patriotic colours with a red Canada t-shirt, poncho and red and white lawn chair. Mr. Barton had travelled with his wife up from London, Ont., to visit their daughter and attend their 12th Canada Day on the Hill. "Really we like the crowds. I enjoy showing the colours – we don't normally do that."

"I was wondering why they were blue on Canada Day," said Marc Dagenis, a resident of Gatineau, Que., on the Hill with his family. "It's different. Most people might think it's out of place."

Despite the abundance of Tory blue on stage, a spokesperson for Heritage Canada explained that the flags were meant to represent the Northern Lights in honour of the 100th anniversary of Canada's first scientific expedition to the Arctic, which was mentioned in the Prime Minister's speech and featured in a video shown during the ceremony. "I thought it was supposed to be rippling water," said Kathy Constable, who is in the process of moving to Kingston from Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband. In Alaska, she says, "We saw the Northern Lights. They don't look like that."

The unusual colour scheme was a small curiosity during a rousing, fast-paced show which included Quebec singer Karim Ouellet, and the Canadian rock group Metric. There was also a poignant speech by Hélène Campbell, an Ottawa native who recently received a double-lung transplant, and who used her co-hosting duties to raise awareness about the need for Canadians to sign up as organ donors. Ms. Jepsen closed the show.

Jim Henry, a Canadian based in Texas who timed his family's vacation to catch the show on Parliament Hill, said the day "gives us an excuse to forget about ourselves and celebrate the good things about Canada."

There will also be an evening show, with most of the same singers, ending with the fireworks behind the Peace Tower at 10 p.m.

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