Thousands came out for the funeral of Lincoln Alexander, the former Ontario lieutenant-governor and Canada's first black MP, at a rare provincial state funeral in Hamilton Friday.

"A whole city, province and country is mourning his passing," said Rev. Allison Barrett, who lead the service.

Barrett said she would refer to Alexander as "Linc" throughout the ceremony. That's what he would have asked for, she said. The inside cover of the funeral program has a photo of Alexander as an MP with a quote, "Just call me Linc."

The Burlington Welsh Male Chorus sang All Through the Night as Alexander's casket, draped in a Canadian flag with his cap and medals sit on top, sat front and centre on the stage in Hamilton Place.

"I see you as a true human being with flaws and perfections," said Erika Alexander, reading from a letter she wrote to her grandfather.

"I prayed to God last Thursday night that we would have a few more days with you," she said.

Alexander, who died Oct. 19 at age 90, was honoured by his family, hundreds of people in the city where he spent most of his life, as well as dignitaries including Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and provincial Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

It's the first state funeral in the province since 1982, when former premier John Robarts was laid to rest.

Ceremonies began in Hamilton at 12:30 p.m., with the funeral procession travelling from Hamilton City Hall to Hamilton Place. Nearly 1,000 seats were made available for the public at Commonwealth Square, where the service was broadcast.

Vicki Wooldridge lined up for the funeral at 9 a.m. She worked at Atrium Village, a Hamilton retirement home where Alexander was a resident.

"He was such an honourable man," Wooldridge said. "He was always there for somebody and I just wanted to pay my respects."

Family, dignitaries scheduled to speak

Alexander's son, Keith Alexander, and two grandchildren, Marissa and Erika Alexander, delivered the eulogy. His wife, Marni Alexander, did not speak.

The pallbearers were Jim Hubel, Peter George and JoJo Chintoh.

Jackie Richardson performed a heartwarming rendition of "Here's to Life" with the Hamilton All Star Jazz Band. CFL great Pinball Clemons called Alexander "leadership personified."

linc-city-hall

The City of Hamilton will hold a provincial state funeral for former Ontario lieutenant-governor Lincoln Alexander, who died earlier this month at age 90. (Tourism Hamilton)

The service also included readings from:

  • Former Ontario premier David Peterson.
  • Former McMaster University president Peter George.
  • Former Hamilton police chief Colin Millar.
  • Guelph University president Alastair Summerlee.

"He epitomized what is best in humanity," said former McMaster president Peter George before the funeral. "He dedicated his life to his city and his country. He was without equal."

Alexander served as lieutenant-governor from 1985 to 1991. Among his other accomplishments at the provincial level, he was Ontario's first black vice-regal.

Born in Toronto in 1922 to West Indian immigrants, Alexander was with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War for four years beginning in 1942.

He moved to Hamilton and attended McMaster University, graduating in 1949. Four years later, he graduated from Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School.

Alexander first ran federally as a Conservative in 1965 in Hamilton West, but lost before finally getting elected in 1968, becoming the first black MP. He was re-elected in 1972, 1979 and 1980.

As Canada's first black cabinet minister, he held the labour portfolio from 1979 to 1980 under the government of Joe Clark.