Vancouver’s closing ceremony is nice . . . and quirky

This ebullient, stone-washed city put on a roaring grand finale Sunday night, a sparkling celebration marked with fireworks, flames and wedding-day smiles.

Were they happy here? Only in a Paris-is-liberated, hats-and-heels-in-the-air sort of way. Guess they like their hockey here.

So peace out, Vancouver. Sweeter than syrup, you people.

Sunday’s closing ceremony was a long, over-the-top farewell for a nation of people who seem incapable of booing.

Maybe they were on their best behavior for the guests, but you usually can’t fake this kind of stuff. Graciousness is their default mode here. For the last two weeks, beaming has been a way of life. In a nod to the local vernacular, let me just say this is the nicest city I’ve ever been.

In truth, Sunday’s closing ceremony started off a little stiff, after a very fun spoof about the malfunctioning torch. The program was soon full of speeches, protocol and anthems. In the audience, we’re up, we’re down -- like church.

Then the Moscow State Chamber Choir comes out. No laughs there either.

The show didn’t really catch fire till Neil Young showed up singing, and then there was no stopping things.

“My name is Bill and I’m proud to be a Canadian,” William Shatner said to roars. “My pride is as immense as this majestic country.”

It didn’t hurt that they had won that little hockey medal hours before, a sport they seem to enjoy.

Hockey means so much to them here, probably too much. To borrow from Canada’s own Margaret Atwood, hockey is “the song that forces men to leap overboard in squadrons.”

Seriously, I’m worried for these people. They are so happy right now, they might forget to eat. Every Canadian pond glowed gold Sunday night -- from Nova Scotia to the Yukon.

And then there was this ceremony. Was there anyone left in the rest of Canada? At times, there seemed to be more people on the dance floor than in the stands.

There is so much that can go wrong at an event like this. There are 360 rigging points in the ceiling, 60 electric winches that bring things up and down, a dozen dancing canoes. Just one canoe goes flying the wrong way and you have yourself an international incident.

But nothing seemed to go very wrong here Sunday.

Much of it was a fever dream of Canadian quirks and cultural references -- beavers and Mounties, hockey pucks, moose and flying maple leaves. Let me assure you that when you get all those elements under one roof, you can’t really miss.

By the way, did you know Canada once had 6 million beavers? Says right here in the media guide. I throw that out there because I’ll probably never get another chance to write “6 million beavers.”

Even without beavers, Sunday’s show would’ve been kitschy, fun, rocked-out, zany -- qualities Canadians are rarely known for.

In a strobe-lighted, special effects-laden world, you sometimes get numbed to the flashes and explosions. But not in BC Place on Sunday night. The 2 1/2 -hour celebration seemed just right. Well, maybe “right” isn’t the word. How about “well-deserved”?

Nickelback performed. So did Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette. And some princess-in-waiting by the name of Marie-Mai, who is described as “a force to be reckoned with on Quebec’s cultural landscape.”

I can neither confirm nor deny this. I just pass along what I hear.

In the end, this is a more mirthful place than it gets credit for. Poked a lot of fun at these cowpokes the last two weeks, and they bounced back up off the canvas smiling, most of them anyway.

I’ll never forget when I kidded them in print about being too friendly and several e-mailed to apologize. That’s a pretty cool souvenir right there. Better than any overhyped red mittens.

I will miss my morning run through Stanley Park almost as much as the fresh seafood and the hearty handshakes. This is one of those Pacific Northwest locales where the air seems to come straight from the trees, not filtered through cars, no middle man, no filler.

So pristine, this Vancouver -- so backward and podunky -- that it doesn’t even have a freeway running through it. In fact, I’ve gone three weeks without seeing a freeway. You have no idea what that is like till you experience it firsthand.

On Monday, this place will feel like a collapsed umbrella. They’ll rip down the Olympic netting, they’ll repaint all the buses. They can all go back to chasing moose out of the backward.

Then a great raging debate will begin: Was this Winter Olympics worth it, a public debt that may last decades?

Yes, every penny.

In all the important ways, Canada, you owned the podium.