Nelson Mandela in Canada

Nelson Mandela visited Canada before, during and after serving as president of South Africa.

Former South African president visited three times

Former South African president Nelson Mandela and Prime Minister Jean Chretien are flanked by RCMP constables in Hull, Que., on Nov. 19, 2001. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Nelson Mandela visited Canada before, during and after serving as president of South Africa.

The first of his three visits took place just four months after he was released from a South African prison, where he'd been held for 27 years.

First visit — June 1990

In June 1990, Mandela addressed a joint session of the House of Commons and the Senate in Ottawa and spoke at the Ontario legislature in Toronto.

Mandela's message was that Canada's support was crucial for bringing human rights to South Africa. He also asked that sanctions against his homeland be maintained.

During his three-day visit, he also spoke to crowds in Toronto and Montreal. In a square behind Montreal City Hall, he told 20,000 people that "the catalogue of crimes committed by the apartheid system continues to grow."

Four years after that visit, not only did Mandela vote for the first time, he was elected democratic South Africa's first president.

2nd visit — September 1998

In September 1998, two months after his 80th birthday, he returned to Canada for a three-day visit. This time it was an official state visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Mandela thanked Canada for its help in ending apartheid, calling Canada a home away from home.

He received the Order of Canada, the first foreign leader to do so.

Mandela again spoke to a joint Commons-Senate session.

"In the interdependent world in which we now live, rich and poor, strong and weak, are bound in a common destiny that decrees that none shall enjoy lasting prosperity and stability unless others do, too," he told the assembled politicians.

The highlight of his visit was an event at the SkyDome in Toronto, attended by 46,000 students and 5,000 adults.

Mandela said the event was his "greatest moment ever outside South Africa." It was part of an effort to get international support for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, which helps disadvantaged young people in South Africa.

At the SkyDome, Mandela danced on stage, telling the students, "You have made me feel like a young man again."

3rd visit — November 2001

Mandela stepped down at the end of his first presidential term in 1999 and two years later returned to Canada for the third time.

The House of Commons had debated a motion to make Mandela  the first living person to receive honorary Canadian citizenship. Parliament had decided on the honour in recognition of Mandela's "great moral leadership to South Africa and to all humanity."

When the Speaker asked if everyone agreed with the motion, only one MP disagreed. The dissenting voice was that of Rob Anders, who still represents Calgary West.

"He's the politically correct kind of 'lib' left poster boy of today," Anders said on CBC Newsworld at the time. "I would say that 30 years from now Nelson Mandela will not be lionized as much as he is today."

When he received his citizenship, Mandela said: "It is at moments like these that in spite of all the hardships ... we have our faith in human solidarity and universal friendship."

He added that in the battle to end apartheid, South Africa "could always turn to Canada for models of democratic countries."