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Memorial Peace Park turns red and white to honour Olympic flame visit

Maple Ridge residents whooped, cheered and applauded the Olympic flame and gave a red-and-white welcome to the torch early Monday as the countdown to the lighting of the cauldron entered its final week.

Morning mists swirled around a huge Canadian flag hanging above 224th Street while families, kids and seniors awaited the arrival of torch relay, on its 102nd day.

The crowd, though, didn't need a flame to get fired up.

Before daylight even arrived, Memorial Peace Park looked like a mix between Christmas and Valentine's Day.

Jackie Amato, wearing a 2006 Olympic jacket, with son Jordan, 4, and his Olympic red mittens showed up, "just because it's a once-in-a-lifetime event," mom said.

Same too for Karen Krull and John Humphries carrying Cole, 3, and Grady, 5. Dad was wrapped in a Canadian flag while Cole held another atop dad's shoulders.

"I'm glad I'm here," said John. "I didn't get to Calgary (1988 Winter Olympics)." Some of the negativity surrounding the Olympics gets him down, he added.

"We have it – let's show it," and make the best of it.

"They (kids) are here to see Quatchi, Sumi and Miga, but the flame is all right," added Karen.

The torch, which lights the Olympic cauldron in B.C. Place Friday, opening the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, arrived in "convoy mode" a Vanoc term for inside a vehicle, from Mission just after 7 a.m.

The procession didn't take long to cover the Maple Ridge stretch of its route. An advance vehicle with a digital sign warned residents of the impending arrival.

"Olympic flame will be arriving in a few minutes," it flashed.

The buzz of the crowd grew louder and soon after, pulsating sounds of the RBC bus with girating dancers jolted Team Canada fans nursing their morning coffees. Following the RBC bus came the red Coke truck with "celebre la flamme," on its side.

Politicians kept their speeches electrifyingly short.

"This is an exciting day, isn't it?" said MP Randy Kamp.

"I want you to know, this is what I look like when I'm excited," he joked.

The flame's arrival was as ephemeral as the fog. After turning south on to 224th Street, then entering the park on McIntosh Avenue, the flame stopped briefly at the gazebo. Then minutes it later it had sped past an awestruck crowd and back on to Lougheed Highway, leaving Maple Ridge for a lifetime.

Within half an hour of the flame's departure, the park was already returning to its morning routine.

"It's not as exciting as I thought it would be – but it was pretty cool," said Teshia McDonnell, one of a group of Samuel Robinson Technical students who caught the event.

"It's pretty awesome," added Patrick Tur.

"Brings in the Olympic spirit," said Cameron Tupper, also at SRT. "It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Kanaka Creek elementary teacher Paul Moran brought a group of students for some photos ops and thanks to some advance planning was able to get photos with the torch.

"Get closer together you guys," he said as he organized a final group shot in front of an ice sculpture. Raj Sachar in Grade 6 and his brother Jay in Grade 3 and Thomas Hong all gathered for the memorable photo.

A trio with roots deep in the community got up early for the occasion. Ted James, member of the Maple Ridge branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, was impressed with the event and so was friend Marilyn McIntosh, decked out in an Olympic shirt, sweater, red scarf, tuque and Olympic mittens.

"Oh, it was wonderful. It's here, you might as well enjoy it,"" McIntosh said.

She referred to McIntosh Avenue for reference in spelling her name. Her husband Ron's grandfather owned land in the downtown and it was after him that the street was named.

Same too for Darlene Wicklund. Her family gave Wicklund Avenue its name.

"We have roots here," she said.

About the Olympics: "I love the curling."

It was inspiring to hear why other runners wanted to carry the torch, said Jeff Schulz, an ICBC employee from North Vancouver. "It's an honour to do this." The torch is a symbol of peace, he added.

Graeme Ross, with tiny Callum in a stroller, was one of the last to get a photo. Graeme's a hockey fan and wore a 1980s orange-and-black Canucks cap and a Team Canada sweater.

He'd like to see a Canada-U.S.A. final.

A Canada-Russia final would be good, too, likely a match with more speed and skill.

Schulz, with his torch, obliged and posed for a photo with the toddler.

With the image in the camera, Graeme reversed the stroller and continued the emptying of the park.

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