Lloyd Robertson told Canadians what kind of day it's been for the last time Thursday night, as he stepped down after 35 years as CTV's chief anchor and senior news editor.

Before his signature sign-off, Robertson paid tribute to his colleagues and to viewers who have tuned in faithfully year after year.

"And so we come to the end, and it couldn't happen at a more fitting time than the beginning of September 2011," Robertson said, noting that it was 35 years ago this month that he joined CTV to co-anchor the national news with Harvey Kirk.

"During that period and since, we have had the usual ups and downs in the news cycle, from natural disasters to royal weddings, and I am deeply grateful to many of you who have stayed with us through it all," Robertson said.

"For me, it's been a rare privilege to have been able to serve in this position for so long. It's been a front-row seat to history. If someone had told me 60 years ago this would be my life, I would have said they were crazy. Most of all it's been fascinating to watch our country grow in confidence and stature."

Robertson handed the CTV National News desk over to Lisa LaFlamme, who begins her new role as anchor on Monday.

He thanked viewers for sending along "touching messages" in the wake of his announcement that he would step down. And he paid tribute to the CTV staff members who work every night to bring the newscast to air.

"It is not false modesty to say that I am only the most visible member of a highly skilled and thoroughly dedicated team of news, production and technical professionals, all around me here and beyond," Robertson said. "I can never offer them praise enough."

Of course, Robertson ended by saying: "And that's the kind of day it's been."

In a taped message that aired during Thursday's broadcast, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the evening "the end of an era."

"You've been delivering the news since I was barely more than a boy. You've been doing it for so long and so authoritatively, you've almost become a part of Canada's geography, and I know that Canadians from coast to coast are going to miss you," the prime minister said. "On our part, Laureen and I want to wish you and Nancy all the best as you chart a new course in life."

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Robertson can be summed up with one word: integrity.

"His word is everything," Rae said in a taped message. "He is authenticity, he is authority, he's a good humoured guy, he's a great Canadian, he's a great broadcaster, and dare I say it, he's a good friend."

Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel wished Robertson "a great retirement with friends and family."

In over 60 years in broadcasting, Robertson has been on the front lines of history, covering everything from man's first walk on the moon to Terry Fox's epic attempt to run across Canada, the Iraq war and 9-11.

The iconic newsman, who at 77 years old has been an enduring presence on Canadian airwaves, admitted earlier Thursday it will be difficult to leave the job he loves. But the timing is right, he said.

"It's going to be a wrench leaving after all these years at 11 o'clock at night, but it's also going to be a relief because I know I'm launching a new chapter of my life and also because I'll still be doing some television for W5 and some items for various parts of the broadcast department," Robertson told CTV's Canada AM.

"But it will be an opportunity to go to a movie on a Thursday night, for example, without having to get to work that evening."

Career Highlights

Looking back on his career, Robertson said there are some key stories that stand out as highlights over the years.

One especially memorable moment was when Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope ended near Thunder Bay -- about halfway from his goal of running across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

Canadians had watched their TVs for days as Fox, an amputee, strove valiantly towards his goal.

The day Fox's run ended, CTV decided within the hour to hold a broadcast telethon, Robertson said. The show raised over $10 million with the help of Canadians like Anne Murray who came out with practically no notice to support the cause.

"We saw Canadians come out of themselves that time with generosity, with spirit, with emotion and it really dug deeply into the roots of the country and you really saw what Canadians were made of," Robertson said.

The other moment that stands out above the others, he said, came on July 21, 1969, when three American astronauts landed on the moon for the first time. Robertson covered the story as it unfolded, and millions watched.

"I walked out into the parking lot (afterwards) and looked up there and thought 'does it get any better than this?'" Robertson said.

"For a kid from Stratford, Ont. who didn't have a lot of formal education, never went beyond high school, and here I am in this job which puts me right here on the cusp of history and I'm able to experience all of this... I thought, there is not a better job in the world."

Robertson's connection to his hometown of Stratford has been an important constant throughout his life, and he said it was an honour when the town recently named Sept. 1 as "Lloyd Robertson Day."

Robertson said he has always followed the advice his father gave him as a young man, to remember where he came from.

"He said the way to keep grounded is to remember your roots because if you do go and do things in life beyond where you are now, don't forget that, because the best people stay grounded because you know who you are, you know what you are, you know where you come from."

Words of Advice

Pamela Wallin, a longtime broadcaster, former CTV journalist and now Conservative senator, said Robertson would do well to step back from the world of television news as he adjusts to his new life.

"My best advice to him would be to turn the television off and not watch it for about six months because he will sit there and say 'they're not doing it right,'" Wallin joked in a taped message for Robertson.

Craig Oliver, CTV's chief political correspondent and a longtime colleague of Robertson's, had different advice, suggesting he continue to feed his passion as long as possible.

"As old cowboys like Lloyd and me would say, 'die with your boots on.'" Oliver said. "I hope he doesn't quit doing something in this business and I don't think he intends to and I don't think he will."

Passing the Torch

LaFlamme said she is excited to take on the new challenges that come with the role and has learned much from Robertson, who often provides feedback and advice when she's behind the anchor's desk.

A veteran foreign correspondent who has covered major stories across Canada and around the world, LaFlamme told Canada AM she is looking forward to helping shape the entire newscast, not just one story.

"The beautiful and exciting thing about being the anchor is you really have this pivotal role in helping frame the whole day, the whole show, and trying to bring it to Canadians in a cohesive way, in an understandable way. And it isn't just one story it's the whole thing," she said.

LaFlamme will begin her new role from the road as she takes CTV National News to New York City for coverage leading up to the 10-year anniversary of 9-11.

Robertson said he couldn't be happier with the choice for his successor, saying LaFlamme brings much more experience and a longer list of credentials to the job than he did when he started.

"And when you look for an anchor you look for someone with that kind of experience but you're also looking for a great communicator, someone with presence, someone who can walk into a room like Lisa did a few moments ago and light it up, and that's what she does, that's why she's so great," he said.

Robertson said he will begin the new phase of his life with a Mediterranean cruise with his wife Nancy. After that he will settle into his new work with CTV's investigative current affairs show, W5.

He joked that it will take some time to adjust his sleep pattern after decades of going to bed at around 2 a.m. -- a schedule he admits he won't mind leaving behind.

What he will miss, however, is the daily news cycle that has defined his life for over half a century.

"I will miss coming in every day, I will miss seeing my friends, I will miss that wonderful process of being able to sit down, sift through the material having heard what's on the go that day and then make decisions about how we're going to shape it for our Canadian audience, what's of interest, what's of importance to them."