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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Justin's magic moments

Political aide's photo album yields shots of
Arctic trip mentioned in touching eulogy

Thursday, October 5, 2000

PEMBROKE, ONT. -- It's an image now etched into the minds of millions of Canadians: A young Justin Trudeau perched on a snowbank staring wide-eyed through a frosty window in Alert, NWT, where "Santa Claus" was hard at work making toys.

The 28-year-old son of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau touched the nation Tuesday when he began his eulogy to his father with the tale of how he had been taken along on a Prime Ministerial trip to Canada's North.

Originally excited to be on the trip, the child soon became bored in the tiny windswept northern community. But one day he was taken out for what he was told was a top-secret mission and driven by Jeep to a red building.

He described the event in his moving eulogy.

"We drove slowly through and past the buildings, all of them very grey and windy. We rounded a corner and came upon a red one. We stopped. I got out of the Jeep and started to crunch across toward the front door. I was told, no, to the window.

"So I clambered over the snowbank, was boosted up to the window, rubbed my sleeve against the frosty glass to see inside and as my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw a figure, hunched over one of many work tables that seemed very cluttered. He was wearing a red suit with that furry white trim.

"And that's when I understood just how powerful and wonderful my father was."

Pictures of the moment show a pint-sized Justin dressed in a snowsuit, clambering up the bank, staring through a tiny hole in a red garage door and sliding back down with a look of wonder.

Bob Pilot, then an executive assistant to Northwest Territories commissioner Stew Hodgson, was on that trip with Mr. Trudeau and his son.

For decades pictures of that event have remained in his collection, private mementos of private moments. But after the immense public outpouring of grief in the days following Mr. Trudeau's death and Justin's eulogy, he decided to share them with the public.

"The memories just came flooding back when I heard his eulogy," Mr. Pilot said yesterday. Especially the moment Justin describes in his speech. "He has this expression on like 'oooh.' He was amazed. It seemed like it was the most wonderful thing in the world to him to see where Santa Claus worked."

The red shed had a sign on it that read "World's most northerly supply section. We supply Santa Claus."

The man in red was not actually Santa, Mr. Pilot revealed, but one of the "military chappies" travelling with the prime minister.

And in Mr. Pilot's story, Justin would have been aged four, not six, as the son recalled in his eulogy.

Looking through his brown scrapbook of memories from the August, 1975, trip, Mr. Pilot recalled a father and son who were extremely close.

"The love between the father and Justin on that trip was just incredible. It was just like any family. It was nice to watch," he said.

Mr. Pilot recalled other moments with the Trudeaus, and his album, with some of the pictures taken by him, included other touching images of the father and son.

There are pictures of the two playing on a motor bike in snowbanks. In some, Mr. Trudeau is helping Justin on and off the plane and one touching image shows Justin on his father's lap in the cockpit, the youngster looking out the window at a white horizon with his father whispering into his ear.

"It was a wonderful trip," said Mr. Pilot, who explained that the prime minster had asked for a private visit to the territory. "There were no [formal] trappings, no hurry. He could go anywhere he wanted."

Photographs also show Mr. Trudeau wearing a red diving suit and face mask, since the trip included some diving.

Mr. Pilot also recalled reading stories to Justin, who he said was "an adorable kid, extremely photogeneic."

Mr. Pilot only met the Trudeaus that one time.

Hearing Justin speak at the funeral on television was an eerie experience for Mr. Pilot. "It was uncanny. I closed my eyes. I told my wife it was just like Pierre was talking."

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