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Trudeau still awaits memorial one year after death
Friday, September 28, 2001

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  • John Diefenbaker has his lake. Lester Pearson has an airport. Pierre Trudeau has - wait for it - a pedestrian bridge over the Humber River in Toronto.

    Or, rather, he almost had. The proposal has now been scrapped.

    One year after the death of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the 15th prime minister of Canada and the man most Canadians rank among the greatest PMs in our history, there is still no major commemoration of Mr. Trudeau on the Canadian landscape.

    It was a year ago today that Mr. Trudeau died, inspiring a massive outpouring of emotion by Canadians, many of whom lined up for hours to walk past his coffin or waited at railway stations to watch his funeral cortege pass through on its way from Ottawa to Montreal.

    But the rush by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien immediately after the funeral to rename the country's highest peak, Mount Logan, for Mr. Trudeau was stopped in its tracks by a storm of criticism over wiping the worthy name of renowned geologist Sir William Logan from the map.

    Since then, there has been almost nothing, apart from a stamp, a few schools, a park or two, and Toronto's ill-fated plan to name its award-winning pedestrian bridge after Mr. Trudeau.

    The dearth of recognition is surprising given the passionate outpouring of emotion and praise for Mr. Trudeau after his death last September at the age of 80.

    “We're not a country like the United States. We have a much shorter attention span,” bestselling historical author Pierre Berton said. “And we're not a terribly political people.”

    There is also the fact that Mr. Trudeau was not admired equally by East and West.

    “You know where you're phoning, don't you? This is Calgary,” a spokesperson for the local school board replied when asked if any schools there were named after Mr. Trudeau. “Try Edmonton.”

    Historian Jack Granatstein said it may be right to wait a bit before pronouncing an appropriate Trudeau legacy, given western hostility to Mr. Trudeau, particularly over his reviled National Energy Plan.

    “Politics is very partisan in Canada. I mean, if you name a federal building after Mr. Trudeau, does it mean that [former Alberta premier] Peter Lougheed won't go into it?”

    The federal government says it has not forgotten Mr. Trudeau.

    After pricking his finger on Mount Logan, Mr. Chrétien is moving more cautiously. He renewed his commitment to honour Mr. Trudeau with a lasting tribute during the Speech from the Throne debate earlier this year.

    “We don't want to rush into anything,” said Nancy Bergeron, media spokeswoman for the Canadian Heritage Department. “We are working very closely with the Trudeau Foundation [which represents the Trudeau family]. We want to find the best way to recognize him.”

    Foundation spokesman Michael Levine said the family is taking its time to respond to numerous proposals to commemorate Mr. Trudeau.

    “They want to evaluate what makes sense and what doesn't,” said Mr. Levine, a Toronto lawyer. “The family will deal with it in their own way. It's a timing question, really. Right now, the sons' priority is taking care of their mom and getting on with their lives.”

    One source said there could be a federal announcement within the next few months.

    At the same time, not much has gone right with other attempts to implant Mr. Trudeau's name into something solid.

    In Montreal, parents clashed over sending their children to the newly named Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School. Many wanted to keep the school's old name, Francesca Cabrini, after an Italian saint who founded a network of orphanages in the United States.

    After parents protested, the commissioners voted 9-8 to retain the Trudeau name.

    Another Pierre Elliott Trudeau elementary school, in Vaudreuil-Dorin, has had less controversy.

    “I'm happy with the name. I just find it long to say when I answer the phone,” principal Lorel Crawford said.

    In Toronto, however, there was an uproar when staff suggested the city commemorate Mr. Trudeau by naming a walkway over the Humber River for the former prime minister.

    “It's a beautiful bridge, but it's not a big one,” said councillor Norm Kennedy, who had been a Liberal caucus member during Mr. Trudeau's last term. “It's hardly central to life in the city, like Pearson International Airport. It's just not enough.”

    Councillor Brad Duguid said a small pedestrian bridge is hardly an appropriate memorial “for the person I consider Canada's greatest prime minister. There's a piece of Trudeau in almost every one of us.”

    Despite grumblings from some councillors that changing the name of anything would cost money, staff has now been instructed to propose more meaningful recognition for Mr. Trudeau.

    Mr. Kennedy would like the busy Don Valley Parkway to bear the Trudeau name. Mr. Duguid prefers naming the Toronto waterfront after Mr. Trudeau.

    “There's absolutely no desire to do nothing. There was only one Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and there is only one opportunity to honour him in Toronto. We need to make sure we do it right.”

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