Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Gawking and gossip in peanut gallery
But a son's words still restive hordes
By MARK MACKINNON
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, October 4, 2000
MONTREAL -- After days of solemn public mourning in Ottawa and Montreal, and the spontaneous beauty of the train ride in between, sitting in the public gallery at Pierre Trudeau's funeral appeared, by contrast, to be a little carnival-like.
Hundreds of members of the general public were allowed into Notre Dame Basilica yesterday to mourn with the friends, family and former heads of state. Those who made it inside had started lining up at 6 a.m., five hours before the funeral began. But in the church balconies, where the public was ushered, the atmosphere was more Hollywood premiere than state funeral. People ignored the mass, climbing over each other, and the pews, in an effort to get a better view of the quasi-celebrities down below.
"I hear Fidel's going to be a pall bearer," gasped a young man in a dark suit, as dignitaries began to arrive. "And Leonard Cohen!" replied another. "Who's Leonard Cohen?" asked an older woman wearing a shawl over her head.
The public was allowed only onto the highest of three decks of seats in the church, but had plenty of space on the plain wooden pews as RCMP officers cut back drastically on the number of the non-invited allowed in.
The plan originally called for 1,400 members of the public, but fewer than 500 were actually let in, leaving long lines of disappointed mourners outside, some of whom had been there for hours.
In the balconies, onlookers strained to get a better view of who was sitting beside whom in the church below. The buzz wasn't about the gravity of the moment, or Mr. Trudeau's contribution to Canadian society, but about the pearls Mila Mulroney was wearing and the absence of some of Mr. Trudeau's ex-lovers.
"I hear Barbra Streisand is coming [she didn't], but that Liona Boyd and Margot Kidder aren't [Ms. Boyd did not, Ms. Kidder did]," speculated one man in an NHL sweatshirt even as the organ began to play and RCMP pallbearers entered the basilica.
One woman reminisced about having been at the same building six years previously for CÚline Dion's wedding. She couldn't get into the basilica that time, though, and was reduced to shouting the singer's name from the other side of Rue Notre-Dame as Ms. Dion emerged with her new husband.
From the next-to-last row in the highest deck of the massive cathedral, the front of the church is barely visible on an average day, and was almost entirely obscured yesterday by huge television light stands.
Once Mr. Trudeau's coffin had been marched to the front and the dignitaries had all arrived, people deserted their seats and walked about the gallery, trying to find the perfect vantage point from which to observe the expressions of Margaret, Justin and Sacha Trudeau.
When Justin pulled a handkerchief out and dabbed at his face, the crowd whispered collectively, trying to discern whether Mr. Trudeau's eldest son was crying, or whether it was just that the whole church was as hot as it was in the balconies.
In fact, the only time the gawking and the gossiping stopped was near the end of the mass, when Justin delivered a moving eulogy to his father that quieted everyone.
Eyes that had spent two hours skipping over the celebrities below suddenly stared at the floor, or at the majestic spires, or closed in thought.
Perhaps the son has something of the father's gift.