Canadian leaders pay respects to Mandela at memorial service

Alberta Premier Alison Redford poses for a photo with former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark in...

Alberta Premier Alison Redford poses for a photo with former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark in the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, in Johannesburg, South Africa before the memorial for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday Dec 10, 2013. Photo courtesy Government of Alberta

Matt Dykstra, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:37 PM ET

Canadian leaders past and present gathered with leaders from around the world to honour and remember the life of beloved South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela at a rain-drenched public memorial in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The Canadian delegation at the memorial sat together. It included former governor general Michaelle Jean, premiers of the Yukon, Nova Scotia and Alberta, as well as Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Several former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Kim Campbell also made the trip.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat in the leaders' section with U.S. President Barack Obama.

"It's an incredibly wet day, unexpected for December here. In African culture, they say that the rains bring peace so hopefully that's what they're bringing today," Alberta Premier Alison Redford said after the ceremony at Johannesburg's National Bank Stadium, which was packed with thousands paying their final respects.

As she walked into the stadium, Redford said she was reminded of the great African National Congress political rallies of the past and to see many of today's world leaders on stage without Mandela was a "moment of reality" for her.

Redford worked for Mandela in the early 1990s as a lawyer, when she helped him rebuild the country's legal system and pave the way for its first all-race elections.

"To walk in there and know that he wasn't going to get up on that stage was really hard. I was surprised how sad it made me," she said, adding the stadium was filled with music and a "sense of joy and celebration."

"It wasn't a sombre event and I didn't expect it to be," she said.

Audibly tearing up during the media teleconference, Redford said she was honoured to have been invited to the memorial by Harper.

"I never thought that I would have the opportunity to be there. I'm not sure that I would say I enjoyed being here for this funeral, this loss, but I am honoured to be here."

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski tweeted several photos through the day, including a couple with fellow Canadian politicians.

"We have made it to the stadium! While it is still filling up the singing & dancing say this is a celebration," he tweeted before the ceremonies began.

Mandela died Dec. 5 at the age of 95. His body will lie in state until Dec. 13. A state funeral will be held on Dec. 15 in Qunu, South Africa.


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