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'You have to admire her': Visitors gather in London to pay respects to the Queen

LONDON — Britain's capital city was swept up in grief and tribute on Friday as thousands of people from all corners of the globe flooded the streets to mourn Queen Elizabeth II on the day after her death.
Long lines of mourners form as people wait to pay their respect at the gates of Buckingham Palace in London on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest-reigning monarch and a rock of stability across much of a turbulent century, died Thursday Sept. 8, 2022, after 70 years on the throne. She was 96. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

LONDON — Britain's capital city was swept up in grief and tribute on Friday as thousands of people from all corners of the globe flooded the streets to mourn Queen Elizabeth II on the day after her death.

Outside Buckingham Palace in London, the focal point of the throng, bouquets of flowers and handwritten notes and photographs piled up along the gates, a wall of condolences four feet high by the end of the afternoon.

"Rest in peace, dear lady," one note read. "Britain will never be the same."

A stuffed Paddington Bear was among the tokens leaning against the trunks of trees that line the road to the royal palace, small gestures of appreciation for a monarch who oversaw a shrinking British empire for 70 years. 

Most of the mourners gathered here in sorrow — some in full three-piece suits with top hats, others covered head-to-toe in Union Jacks — had never known a world in which Elizabeth Windsor was not the Queen. 

"I grew up with her, and she was something special to us as Canadians," said Peter Crooks, from close to Thunder Bay, Ont., who was on vacation with his family in London.

The petite monarch visited Canada some 22 times since her ascension to the throne in 1952, and engaged in tête-à-têtes with a dozen of this country's prime ministers. She first laid eyes on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he was five years old, in the company of his father.

Crooks said he was honoured to get the chance to pay his respects, despite the solemn occasion. "It's amazing, the number of people," he said. "It's amazing to be here and be part of this."

Travelling with him was Mary Louise Crooks, who commended the Queen's hard work and the sacrifices she endured in the course of her duties. 

"She devoted her entire life to being Queen, and probably gave up a regular life to do it. You have to admire her," she said.

Irene Granger-Brown, a new resident of the United Kingdom who until recently had lived her whole life in Montreal, fought back tears as she described the Queen as an "amazing woman" dedicated to her work. 

"To see all these people who cared so much about her, it's not something I've ever seen in Canada, or anywhere else, for that matter," she said, carrying a bouquet of flowers and a Canadian flag.

Asked about her thoughts on the new King, she demurred. "He won't be the Queen. No one else will ever be the Queen. This is once in a lifetime, once in an era," said Granger-Brown. "She was just such an amazing person. And I'm sure he'll do OK."

The crowd outside Buckingham Palace got its first glimpse of the Queen's son and heir, now known as King Charles III, not long after the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery had fired a royal salute in nearby Hyde Park.

The sound of 96 shots reverberated across the area, one for each year of the Queen's storied life. 

The solemnity was broken by a few cheers from people lined up along roadside barricades as they saw the new King passing by in a black car with his wife Camilla, now the Queen consort.

After arriving at the palace gates, the King passed through the crowd and exchanged brief greetings and handshakes with people who appeared eager to snap photos of him.

Not long after, the new sovereign's first speech was broadcast — an ode to his "darling mama" and a pledge to serve "with loyalty, respect and love." 

A prayer service was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, attended by the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who had met with the Queen in Scotland days before her demise.

And away from the sea of humanity that was still swelling in front of the palace, visitors from around the world were still laying bouquets on the grass in city parks.

News footage showed similar scenes unfolding across the U.K., including outside Balmoral Castle, the Scottish estate where the Queen died on Thursday.

The residences will be closed to the public until after the Queen's funeral, but the British Royal Family has invited well-wishers to pay their respects and leave tributes outside.

Though an official date had not been set by late afternoon, protocol suggests the service is likely to take place in about 10 days, with Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders from the Commonwealth and beyond expected to attend.

The beloved 96-year-old Queen left behind a world very different from the one she inherited — changed and fractured and still grappling with the complicated legacy that she carried on her shoulders.

But at least for the coming days, this much is true: the sun won't set on the flags that are flying at half-mast in her honour.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2022.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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