Thousands gathered at the foot of Ouellette Avenue and Riverside Drive on Saturday morning to witness the long-awaited raising of the giant red-and-white maple leaf..

“How do ya like that pole?” asked an emotional Peter Hrastovec, chairman of the Great Canadian Flag Project.

A team of flag carriers — including Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces, and CLarol the Clown — helped keep the 1,800-square-foot, 100-pound symbol off the ground until the pole’s electrically powered internal mechanism hoisted it into place.

Sunny skies and a strong easterly wind allowed the flag to unfurl in a picture-perfect manner 150 feet above the riverfront — reflected upon the windows of the Chrysler building at One Riverside Drive.

“To see that reflection was just awesome,” Hrastovec said.

Saturday’s flag raising was the culmination of a plan that first went before city council in 2012. But project board member Mary Baruth emphasized that the idea was born long before that — originating with Windsorite Thomas McDade in 1980.

McDade’s daughter, Karen, was in attendance — and utterly jubilant. “My father’s vision is completed,” she told the crowd. “I think if he were standing here today, he would be so proud.”

Hrastovec, who wiped tears from his eyes as the flag went up, said he couldn’t have asked for better circumstances.

“It’s the end of our project, but the beginning of good things to come,” he said. “I can’t wait to see the first citizenship oaths being taken under this flag. That’s going to happen.”

In his speech before the flag raising, Hrastovec noted that his late father, a Croatian immigrant, often declared that “Canada is the greatest country in the world.”

Hrastovec pointed to the diversity of Windsor and Canada’s population, not only in language, culture, and creed, but also in opinion. “We know that we live freely, and without compulsion … As unique as we all are, we are uniquely Canadian … melded in a society that honours tolerance and respect for each other.”

Funding for the flag project has come from private donors and the federal government’s Canada 150 program. Project board members presented the city with a $100,000 cheque for future maintenance costs, but the project was still about $25,000 shy of its $355,000 fundraising goal at press time.

“We think, in the next few weeks, we’ll surpass our goal,” Hrastovec said confidently.

Windsor’s 125th birthday was marked by other celebratory events on Saturday — such as the traditional annual Mayor’s Walk along the riverfront.

This year’s walk was joined by representatives of the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County, many of them carrying the flags and wearing the clothing of their ethnic heritage.

The walk was led by members of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment Pipe Band, along with a special guest — the Memorial Cup.

“It’s like a confluence of things, coming together,” Dilkens said before the walk. “It’s extra special for me today.”

Following the flag raising, the party continued in downtown Windsor’s “Vision Corridor” — the grounds between the aquatic centre and the Chimczuk Museum. A large and hungry crowd enjoyed free hotdogs and cupcakes, live music, children’s amusements, cultural dancing, and a rousing performance by the Windsor Optimist Youth Band.

The good weather held out until late in the afternoon.

Jan Wilson, executive director of the city’s recreation and culture department, was appreciative of how ideal the festivities went. “Now people are going to expect it to be like this every year,” she joked.