VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada, politely annoyed when confused with its powerful neighbor to the south, laid claim to a distinct identity as its Olympic Games opened on Friday and asked the world to indulge its uncharacteristic patriotism.
In a colorful and at times moving opening ceremony to the Vancouver Games, Canada rolled out a line-up that read like a Who's Who of the country, including some that an international television audience may have assumed were American anyway.
There were singers Nelly Furtado and k.d. lang, along with cameo performances from racing driver Jacques Villeneuve and actor Donald Sutherland.
"We invite people everywhere to share and experience, even if it's just for a few moments, what it feels like to be a proud Canadian," John Furlong, the Irish-born chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee said toward the end of a ceremony that was both high-tech and surprisingly intimate.
In a nod to the vastness of Canada, the world's second largest country, the show depicted the Arctic, the old growth forests of Pacific British Columbia and the endless prairies, as well as exuberant fiddle music from Atlantic regions and a parade of skaters lit in the red and white of Canada's Maple Leaf flag.
The Olympic movement's first indoor opening ceremony also managed to bring in images of snow, sun, moon and even rain, an apt reminder of the grim weather outside the stadium.
This is Canada's third Olympic Games, after Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988, and leading Canadians spent part of the last few days apologizing for the fact that traditional modesty would be replaced by pride in the country.
"We will ask the world to forgive us this uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday.
But it is not always easy being Canadian.
A more controversial element of the opening centered on symbols of Canada's Inuit and Aboriginal communities, including giant totem poles. Native dancers performed as the athletes marched in and native leaders were prominent on the podium.
The so-called Host Nations, the bands on whose territories the Olympic venues lie, have worked closely with organizers, but not all native communities are as welcoming.
"The Olympics are not welcome on our land," Kanahus Pelkey, an activist with the Secwepemc and Ktunaxa First Nations in the interior of Vancouver's province of British Columbia, told a news conference of protest groups earlier this week.
But the overall message from the ceremony was that the crowd was proud of Canada and proud to be Canadian.
"We are cultures strung together then woven into a tapestry," Canadian poet Shane Koyczan said. "We are an experiment going right for a change, with influences that range from a to zed. And yes we say zed instead of zee."
Editing by Jon Bramley