By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver with pictures by Helen Grace Bennett

March 12 - Canada's close links with the Paralympic Movement were celebrated, including with a stirring tribute to the late Terry Fox, during the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Games at BC Place here tonight.

A high-octane event kept a sold-out crowd of 55,000 entertained for more than two-and-a-half hours as the curtain was raised on the first Winter Paralympics to be held in Canada.

When Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988 the Paralympics were staged at Innsbruck and Canadians were keen to show here that have embraced the event.

The 10 minute segment paying homage to Fox, an amputee whose Marathon of Hope across Canada in 1980 to raise money for cancer only for it to be cut short when he lost his own battle against the disease but which inspired the nation, was the undoubted highlight for most people in the crowd and brilliantly summed up the theme of the evening, "One inspires many".

A charity set-up in Fox's name continues to raise money and so far more than $40 million (£26 million) has been donated to cancer charities thanks to Terry Fox runs in Canada and around the rest of the world.

The tribute was followed by the arrival in BC Place of his Fox's parents, Betty and Rolly, who received a standing ovation before passing the flame round a ring of torchbearers.

The flame was finally lit by Zach Beaumont, a 15-year-old who has had his right leg amputated after being born without a tibia and knee joint.

Earlier, former Paralympian Rick Hansen paid tribute to Fox.

Hansen, who was left a paraplegic by a motor accident at age 15, became friends with Fox when they played on the same wheelchair basketball team.

In 1985, four years after Fox died of cancer, Hansen launched his Man in Motion World Tour to raise money for spinal cord research.

It raised more than $10 million (£6.5 million) over two years for the cause, which he’s continued to champion through his charitable foundation.
In a break from tradition, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean joined 400 children on stage for the national anthem, O Canada, led by blind Newfoundland vocalist - and former Paralympian - Terry Kelly and signing poet Mari Klassen.

The children stood in the shape of a maple leaf for the anthem, then formed the Olympic rings.

Sumi, the thunderbird and black bear hybrid mascot of the Paralympics, flew over the pompom-waving crowd of before athletes from 44 countries, including Britain who were led in by Michael McCreadie (pictured), the skip of the curling team, rolled and walked across the floor during a half-hour parade.

American Paralympic sprinter Aimee Mullins and Canadian wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc of Montreal told the story of the Paralympics in English and French as historical images of previous Games were projected throughout the stadium.

Extreme athletes with disabilities then wowed the audience in a giant skatepark.

Toronto pop artist Fefe Dobson sang as Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham and five other athletes performed a series of high-energy tricks and manoeuvers.

In 2006, "Wheelz" gained worldwide attention when he landed the first 360-degree wheelchair back flip.

As the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) flag was raised, the X Paralympic Winter Games were declared open.

"Let us now turn to why we are all here this evening - the athletes. It is you who redefine the possible," said IPC President Sir Philip Craven.

"You succeed by focusing your minds, driving your bodies and achieving what many would consider the impossible."

John Furlong, the chief executive of Vancouver 2010, as usual got a huge welcome.

"From coast to coast to coast, these Games will inspire greatness," he said.

"We will witness stories of personal triumph and remarkable human perseverance. What you see over the next nine days will leave an impression on your lives forever."