Obama's visit to Canada will be 'sooner rather than later': Cannon

The Canadian government anticipates a pending visit from new U.S. President Barack Obama will come "sooner rather than later," Canada's foreign affairs minister told CBC News on Tuesday.

Harper pledges to work with new U.S. president to build on 'special relationship'

The Canadian government anticipates an announced visit from U.S. President Barack Obama will come "sooner rather than later," Canada's foreign affairs minister told CBC News on Tuesday.

A crowd gathers on the University of Calgary campus on Tuesday to watch U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration on a large TV in the food court of the students' centre. ((Tom Spear/CBC))

Lawrence Cannon said despite the choice of George W. Bush to visit Mexico in his first official state visit, a historical precedent from John F. Kennedy onward suggests presidential visits to Canada have "always been quite close" to the inauguration date.

"The visits to Canada have been very closely aligned with the beginning of the mandate of the new president, so I think that the presumption that it will be sooner rather than later is bang on," Cannon said in an interview from Ottawa.

Obama has already pledged his first official trip abroad will be to Ottawa. Cannon said he did not have a confirmed date for the new president's visit, but officials from both sides of the border have been in touch.

"We expect that over the course of the next couple of days …we'll get a better sense of how this is going to work out," he said. "But we're pleased that he's coming to Canada first and foremost."

PM, Ignatieff congratulate new president

In a statement Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his heartfelt congratulations on behalf of all Canadians to Obama and Americans as they celebrate a "historic day with their friends around the world."

The prime minister said he is "delighted" that the president has accepted Canada's invitation to make this country the destination of his first international visit.

"The United States remains Canada's most important ally, closest friend and largest trading partner and I look forward to working with President Obama and his administration as we build on this special relationship," Harper said.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also hailed Obama's taking office in a statement on Tuesday, saying "history was made today."

"Under this new administration, Canada has high hopes for a renewed relationship with the United States that is mutually beneficial," Ignatieff said.

"My Liberal colleagues and I look forward to a healthy dialogue and exchange of ideas that will not only get us through these difficult economic times but prepare both of our countries for the many challenges ahead, at home and around the world."

'Barack ran so that all of us can fly'

Canadians across the country gathered at theatres, bars and university campuses to watch Obama's inauguration on television. Others crowded around televisions in their offices and homes.

In Halifax, members of a predominantly black church huddled around a television at the 176-year-old Cornwallis Street Baptist Church to watch the event. Many recalled their own struggles against racial division as they watch Obama get sworn in as president.

Rev. Elias Mwamba Mutale, regional minister for the 21 African Baptist churches in Nova Scotia, said the occasion reminded him of the civil rights journey in the U.S.

Tracing a line between Rosa Parks' decision not to give up her seat on a bus for a white man in 1955 to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. to Obama, Mutale said: "Rosa Parks sat down, so King could walk. King walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so that all of us can fly."

In Montreal, where more than 100 people gathered at the Black Coalition headquarters to watch the inauguration streamed live on the internet, Chandelle Kendle started screaming wildly as soon as Obama appeared on screen.

He's amazing!" she shouted. "He's amazing!"

The event will be inspirational to many people, said Roxanne Brown Hennessey, the co-ordinator of Back on Track, a community program that teaches life skills and provides job training to young, black Montrealers.

"That's what Barack represents to them — the possibilities, what is to come," she said. "Even I wish I had my son with me today. He's only 10 years old. But as a little black man, he needs to be here."

Jean welcomes 'wave of hope' from Obama inauguration

In an address from Rideau Hall on Tuesday, Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean called Obama's inauguration "a historic moment that we are joyfully celebrating."

"A new page in the history of civilizations is being written before our very eyes, fulfilling the wishes of so many youths, women and men, from every background and every creed, to see our world become more just and more human," said the Haitian-born Jean, Canada's first black Governor General.

"In these times, when the most fragile among us are threatened by an uncertain economy, by the folly of war and the tension born of prejudice, let us all rejoice in the wave of hope that is filling our hearts.

"On behalf of all Canadians, we offer our very best wishes for success to the new American president and are thrilled that Canada will soon welcome him here during his first official foreign visit."

With files from the Canadian Press