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Jim Flaherty: paying respects

More than a thousand dignitaries and citizens lined up Tuesday to pay respects to Jim Flaherty, the former finance minister whose unexpected death last week shocked many across the country.

As Irish songs played softly over speakers, mourners filed into a low-lit room, where Flaherty's casket lay between two Mounties in ceremonial dress, his widow and triplet sons on one side.

John Ascott was among those arriving early to sign a book of condolences downstairs.

"He made a great sacrifice for this country and I was deeply saddened by his passing and shocked," Ascott said.

"It was the least I could do to come out here and pay my condolences to his family and honour his service to Canada."

First to greet Christine Elliott as she stood near the Maple Leaf-covered casket of her late husband was Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who now runs the Bank of England, was also among early VIP visitors as strains of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" seeped across the room.

It took several hours for all of those who wanted to pay their respects — well over one thousand of them — to do so.

Flaherty, 64, died last Thursday of a suspected heart attack, less than a month after resigning from his long-running finance post in cabinet.

The visitation — which preceded a state funeral at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto on Wednesday — was held in Flaherty's Whitby riding at the Abilities Centre that also caters to the disabled.

The former federal and provincial finance minister and Elliott, a Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, were strong supporters of the centre.

In Flaherty's honour, the country's five largest banks pledged a combined $1 million to the facility.

"In addition to his tremendous contributions to Canada's economic well-being, Flaherty was a tireless champion of people living with disabilities," they said in a statement.

"He showed his support through several decisions as finance minister, gave his time to associated causes, and encouraged a more inclusive society through his actions and his words."

As they passed silently by, some laid a hand on the casket and shed a tear. Others embraced Elliott, who managed a smile for the well-wishers.

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