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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

A historical stroll through Canada's prime ministerial grave sites
Assistant Travel Editor, The Globe and Mail
Saturday, October 7, 2000

If the outpouring of emotion over his death is any indiction, the burial site of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in a small town south of Montreal could soon become a place of pilgrimage. Trudeau was buried Tuesday beside his parents in the family crypt at the cemetery in St-Remi-de-Napierville, Que.

But the graves of many other prime ministers were largely forgotten until two years ago. That's when Sarnia MP Roger Gallaway introduced a bill in Parliament calling for the burial places to be declared national historic sites. He was particularly concerned about the crumbling marker for Alexander Mackenzie, Canada's second prime minister, in his riding.

Parks Canada has since straightened and refinished Mackenzie's tombstone and restored the iron railing around Sir John A. Macdonald's family plot in Kingston, Ont. Under a new national program, all the prime ministerial grave sites will be kept in good repair, and are gradually being outfitted with flagpoles and historical plaques.

For the most part, the 14 former prime ministers chose rather ordinary stones. But the locations often make a visit worthwhile. Some are in pretty villages, others in vast cemeteries that are tourist destinations in their own right.

Here's where to find them:

Sir John Alexander Macdonald
1815-1891, Cataraqui Cemetery, 927 Purdy Mills Rd., Kingston, Ont.

Don't be fooled by the tall obelisk inside the wrought iron railing in this cemetery dating from 1850. It belongs to Sir John A.'s brother-in-law. To find Canada's first prime minister (July, 1867-Nov. 1873 and Oct. 1878-June, 1891) inside the fenced-off family plot, look for the small cross with the simple epitaph, "At Rest." As national leader, Macdonald is remembered as a visionary statesman and a heavy drinker.

Alexander Mackenzie
1822-1892, Lakeview Cemetery, 1016 Colborne Rd., Sarnia, Ont.

A towering Victorian pillar of sandstone topped by a Grecian urn, pinpoints Canada's second prime minister (Nov. 1873-Oct. 1878). Recently straightened and restored, it still attracts only a handful of visitors to pay homage to the man who gave Canada its Supreme Court and the secret ballot.

Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott
1821-1893, Mont-Royal Cemetery, 1297 Forest Rd., Montreal.

With some 200 other celebrities buried in the same garden cemetery on Mount Royal, John Abbott makes the free public tours offered each summer mainly because his rather ordinary tombstone is well located. Lawyer, merchant price, former Montreal mayor and prime minister (June, 1891-Nov. 1892), Abbott is listed in a walking-tour pamphlet available at the cemetery office.

Sir John Sparrow David Thompson
1845-1894, Holy Cross cemetery, Halifax.

John Thompson was a guest of Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle when he died suddenly at age 49, about an hour after being sworn in to the Imperial Privy Council. He had been prime minister for just two years. A British battleship returned his body to Halifax. His four-tiered crypt, topped by a cross, stands out in a cemetery best known for a chapel built by 1,800 Catholics in a single day in 1843.

Sir Mackenzie Bowell
1823-1917, Belleville Cemetery, Trent Road, Belleville, Ont.

Orangeman, printer-publisher and politician, Bowell called his ministers "a nest of traitors," while serving as prime minister (Dec. 1894-April, 1896). His tall pillar blends in with its neighbours in this historic cemetery. Also buried here is Susanna Moodie, pioneer author of Roughing it in the Bush.

Sir Charles Tupper
1821-1915, St. John's Cemetery, 3415 Dutch Village Rd., Halifax.

One plaque near Tupper's grave proclaims that the Scottish-trained doctor was the first president of the Canadian Medical Association. Others record that he was a Father of Confederation and served as prime minister for 69 days in 1896. That's still the shortest term ever.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier
1841-1919, Notre Dame Cemetery, 455 Montreal Road, Ottawa.

The most elaborate marker for any prime minister, Laurier's tombstone is a sarcophagus on a raised pedestal, guarded by two rows of carved figures. Located in Ottawa's oldest Catholic cemetery, it's a fitting marker to Canada's first francophone prime minister (July, 1896-Oct. 1911), a man so beloved that 100,000 people turned out for his funeral procession.

Sir Robert Laird Borden
1854-1937, Beechwood Cemetery, 280 Beechwood Ave., Ottawa.

The simple cross of Canada's First World War prime minister (Oct. 1911-July, 1920) gets a lot of visitors because of its high-profile location near the entrance. But poet Archibald Lampman remains the top draw in this landscaped cemetery. Fourteen members of the Hockey Hall of Fame are buried here.

Arthur Meighen
1874-1960, St. Marys Cemetery, St. Marys, Ont.

Only the recently-installed Parks Canada plaque will tell you Meighen was prime minister (July, 1920-Dec. 1921 and again for three months in 1926). The only biographical details on his small granite tombstone are the letters P.C. (Privy Council) and Q.C. (Queen's Counsel).

William Lyon Mackenzie King
1874-1950, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 375 Mount Pleasant Rd., Toronto.

A closet spiritualist, Mackenzie King frequently attempted to make contact in his lifetime with his dead mother. Now he lies beside her and his father in the vast Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto's burial ground for the rich and famous. The country's longest-serving prime minister (various terms totalling 21 years between 1921 and 1948) gave Canada unemployment insurance and family allowances. His unpretentious marker blends in with those around it. Among other graves listed on a cemetery tour map are retailer Timothy Eaton and insulin co-discoverer Sir Frederick Banting.

Richard Bedford Bennett
1870-1947, St. Michael's Churchyard, Mickleham, Surrey, England.

The only prime minister buried outside Canada, bachelor lawyer R.B. Bennett led the nation from 1930, early in the Depression, until his government was defeated in 1935. Bitter at being blamed for failing to restore prosperity, he retired to the village of Mickleham, south of London, close to his friend, the Canadian-born press baron, Lord Beaverbrook. His impressive granite tomb is immediately in front of the village church. A movement to return his remains to his birthplace, Hopewell Hill, N.B., faltered after parish records revealed Bennett had willed money to have his grave cared for in perpetuity.

Louis Stephen St. Laurent
1882-1973, Saint-Thomas d'Aquin Cemetery, Compton, Que.

It's a humble gravestone in a village cemetery in the Eastern Townships, but it attracts visitors because of its proximity to the National Historic Site that preserves Louis St. Laurent's birthplace and the adjacent general store once run by his father. Prime minister from Nov. 1948 to June, 1957, the former lawyer welcomed Newfoundland into Confederation and sent troops to fight in Korea.

John George Diefenbaker
1895-1979, Grounds of Diefenbaker Canada Centre, University of Saskatchewan campus, Saskatoon, Sask.

He represented Prince Albert, Sask., for years, but the spellbinding orator and prime minister (June, 1957-April, 1963) asked to be buried in Saskatoon, on the campus where he earned three degrees and later served as chancellor. Dief the Chief's low granite marker is a short walk from the museum, archive and research centre that houses the papers and memorabilia he donated to the university. Diefenbaker handpicked the burial site, once a lover's lane, and also orchestrated the train journey that brought his body from Ottawa after a state funeral. His second wife, Olive, originally buried in Ottawa, was reinterred beside him. His first wife, Edna, rests in a cemetery across the river along with Diefenbaker's parents and brother.

Lester Bowles Pearson
1897-1972, MacLaren Cemetery, Wakefield, Que.

A career diplomat-turned-politician, Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 and brought in the maple leaf flag as prime minister (April, 1963-April, 1968). Humble to the end, he lies with his wife, Maryon, in a plot purchased for $10 in a small, pretty town, a 20-minute drive north of Ottawa. A steam tourist train ferries in daytrippers from the capital, and many of them hike to the small hillside cemetery behind the 19th-century MacLaren grist mill. School tours also drop by regularly. Following a tradition developed over the years, many of the visitors leave behind mementos on the simple headstone: most often pebbles, coins and maple leaf pins.

For information, go to the Web site of Parks Canada's National Program for the Grave Sites of Canadian Prime Ministers at

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