Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
'Merci, Pierre,' fellow Canadians say
Public unafraid to show its love for unconventional, inspirational former PM
By MARK MacKINNON
The Globe and Mail
Monday, October 2, 2000
OTTAWA -- This morning, the body of Pierre Elliott Trudeau will be carried down the steps of Parliament Hill one final time, then begin a journey home to Montreal -- the city that perhaps best resembles his dream of a bilingual, multicultural Canada.
A remarkable two-day period of public mourning in Ottawa was to end last night, with the final visitors to Mr. Trudeau's casket likely paying their respects some time early this morning. His body had been lying in state inside the gothic Hall of Honour that separates the House of Commons and the Senate chamber since Saturday morning.
This weekend marked the first chance for the public to pay its respects to the man who spent 15 tumultuous years as their prime minister.
The RCMP estimated yesterday that about 24,000 people passed through the Hall of Honour on Saturday alone. While the first day of visitation was supposed to end at 11 p.m. Saturday, the doors remained open until 3:45 a.m., in order to allow everyone a chance to see the flag-draped casket.
It's likely about 50,000 people viewed the closed coffin before it was moved to Montreal.
Longer lineups yesterday meant some waited up to four hours to spend just a few seconds paying their respects. Yesterday afternoon, guards said the mourners were filing past the casket at a rate of 1,000 to 1,200 an hour.
Today, Mr. Trudeau will lie in state at Montreal's City Hall in advance of the state funeral tomorrow at Notre-Dame Basilica.
The outpouring began Saturday morning when a black hearse arrived on Parliament Hill escorted by police motorcycles. As thousands of mourners looked on, Mr. Trudeau's coffin was carried inside the Centre Block's main doors by eight red-coated RCMP pallbearers.
Overhead, the sun shone on a warm, springlike day as the great bell inside the Peace Tower chimed 81 times -- once for each year of the life of the man who would have turned 81 on Oct. 18.
The casket was carried into the limestone-walled Hall of Honour, where a portrait of Mr. Trudeau had been taken from its normal spot and placed near the entry.
In the portrait, he wears a cape over his shoulder, the trademark red rose on his lapel. The smile of someone who perhaps thinks he knows something you don't plays at the corner of his mouth.
The coffin was placed near the end of the Hall of Honour, just before the entrance to the parliamentary library, the only part of the building to survive the massive 1916 fire. Above it hung a simple wooden cross. Mr. Trudeau was a Roman Catholic.
When the doors were opened to the public Saturday, one of the first to reach the front was Suse Corbeil. Wearing a ballcap emblazoned with red maple leaves, she powered her automatic wheelchair close enough to the coffin so that she could reach out and lay a hand on it. After a moment of quiet reflection, she laid a white rose on top that stayed there the rest of the afternoon.
"I just wanted to come and pay my respects," she said later, losing a fight to restrain her tears. "He had such pure love for Canada. And there isn't anyone today who can speak up and fight for us. It's a sad day."
Heritage Canada officials, who are managing the state funeral, said 28,000 people paid tribute to former prime minister John Diefenbaker while he lay in state, while 14,000 came for Lester Pearson.
Many, upon reaching the front of the massive line, spent a quiet moment, eyes shut in reflection. Some made the sign of the cross, some wept, some reached out to touch the casket or grasped loved ones as they bowed their heads in silence. One woman seemed to give Mr. Trudeau a parting kiss, kissing her hand then touching the casket. Although there were hundreds inside the Hall at any given time, hardly a sound could be heard.
While most reflected on either fleeting encounters with the former prime minister, or memories constructed by television news footage, some came to mourn a deeply personal loss.
Karen Morgan came with her mother to Ottawa from Jamaica in 1974. She was 3 when her mother got a job at 24 Sussex Dr., Mr. Trudeau's official residence. Ms. Morgan lived there for the next six years. Her memory of Mr. Trudeau is not of a politician, but of a man who was much warmer than the media portrayed.
"He was gentle and caring -- a lot different than the public saw him," Ms. Morgan said.
After visitors filed by the casket, most took a moment to sign one of numerous guest books set out for the occasion. Many of the messages spoke of the inspiration and leadership Mr. Trudeau gave to Canada during his years in office.
"You inspired me to be interested in the world, to work for what you believe in and to discover our wonderful country," wrote Ottawa resident Cathy Stewart.
Messages were written in English and French, many referring to Mr. Trudeau as "my idol." Some had come a long way in a short time to be there. But it was the simplest message that was also the most common. Dozens of mourners signed the book the same way: "Merci, Pierre."
Before the public was allowed in Saturday, Mr. Trudeau's family and colleagues were given a few hours alone with his body. Mr. Trudeau's two sons Justin and Sacha followed the casket into the Hall along with their mother, Margaret Trudeau. With them were Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his wife Aline.
Mr. Trudeau's daughter, Sarah, who has just turned nine and lives with her mother, constitutional lawyer Deborah Coyne, was nowhere to be seen. Mr. Trudeau's youngest son, Michel, died in 1998 in an avalanche at the age of 23. It was an event that those close Mr. Trudeau say sapped his zest for life.
The family stood aside as Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband John Ralston Saul were the first to pay their respects. Next came the Chrétiens.
The most emotional moment came when Mr. Chrétien -- who saw Mr. Trudeau as a friend and mentor -- clutched Sacha and Justin separately in bear hugs. Later, as Ms. Clarkson chatted with Ms. Trudeau, the Governor-General reached out and wiped a tear from Justin's face.
Then came the dignitaries, a steady stream that began with Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, and continued through to Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark, Assembly of First Nations national chief Matthew Coon Come, former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells and judges, diplomats, MPs and senators.
While the powerful reminisced and comforted each other, the public waited outside. A crowd thousands strong formed into two long lines that stretched from the front doors of the Centre Block, twisted along the driveway that joins the three Parliament Buildings, and down the sprawling lawn to the Centennial Flame -- a fire near the foot of Parliament Hill that burns continuously in the centre of a fountain as a tribute to the first 100 years of Confederation.
Late Saturday night and yesterday afternoon, the line stretched past the flame, coiling around in front of the East and West Blocks, the two other main Parliament Buildings that flank the Centre Block. Stretched out, the two lines together would have been several kilometres long.
The crowd was dominated by baby boomers, the generation that grew up being alternately thrilled and enraged by Mr. Trudeau. White-haired folks closer to Mr. Trudeau's own age were well represented too.
Despite the fact none of them had personal memories of the former prime minister, hundreds of teenagers waited solemnly in line, perhaps sensing the history of the moment.
While they waited, visitors swapped stories and chuckled about their favourite Trudeau moments -- his pirouette behind the Queen, his unparliamentary "fuddle-duddle" and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many added red roses to the hundreds piled in a circle around the Centennial Flame.
Different people remembered the former prime minister in different ways. To some, he was an intellectual who challenged them. To others, he was first and foremost a patriot, who took a hard line against the separatists in his home province of Quebec. Though it's unlikely Mr. Trudeau would ever have worn clothes with a beer label, several in the crowd thought wearing a Molson "I am Canadian" T-shirt to be a fitting tribute.
To some, he was a beacon of what Canada was and could become. Some, like Ugandan-born Charles Malé, saw that beacon from afar and were drawn to it.
"Even when I lived in Africa, Canada was associated with Trudeau. He was one of the reasons I considered moving here," Mr. Malé explained. "I was in England and saw his farewell speech in 1984, and I saw Canadians shed tears. He exemplified what leadership should be. I wish all the leaders in Africa had the vision and passion he did."
Many brought their children with them, trying to explain to the youngsters why this man had moved so many, so much.
Women in line smiled at the thought of how Trudeaumania had gripped them in that famous 1968 campaign. An almost incredible number of them told stories of how they had met Mr. Trudeau once, and how he had locked eyes with them and smiled, or kissed them.
"He appealed to a higher part of ourselves. He had a vision of a just society. That vision appealed to me -- that, and he kissed me once, truth be known," laughed 56-year-old Pat Marshall, who encountered the prime minister at a Christmas party on Parliament Hill in 1970. "I went home to my husband that night and said 'I'm sorry, but I'm never going to wash this cheek.' "
Years later, Ms. Marshall saw Mr. Trudeau drive by in a car, cape around his shoulders, hat tilted.
"I thought 'Oh my God, it's a shame he didn't meet me before he met Margaret.' That's what Trudeaumania was about."
To some, Mr. Trudeau's attraction could be described only by comparing him to other popular figures of the same era.
"He was as close to being a rock star as a politician could get. He was the fifth Beatle," said Hull resident Paulette Plumadore, 40. "I don't want to sound trite, but I couldn't be there for Diana, or for JFK, or for John Lennon. This is my chance to pay my respect to someone great."
Many in the line seemed to be marking a notch on the bedposts of their lives, as though Mr. Trudeau's life was a shared experience that was now over.
Sudbury resident Danielle Lapalme counts herself among perhaps the largest group of Canadians -- those who never met Mr. Trudeau, but were inspired by him.
"He brought us hope and energy and life and pride. It's a great loss. It's a cliché, but it's absolutely the end of an era."
The following are excerpts from cards left for Pierre Trudeau at the foot of Parliament Hill:
"Dear Trudeau, You are the best Canata had." -- Nicholas M., Grade 3, Stittsville, Ont.
"Our gratitude for allowing the Chilean people to come to Canada during the atrocities of the coup d'état of Augusto Pinochet. Chileans throughout Canada will not forget." -- Ottawa Chilean Cultural Institute
"Pierre Trudeau, You'll be missed, but always remembered. Many thanks for teaching us to be tolerant of one another's differences. . . . Greatness like you only passes this way once." -- J. Pallotta
"Dear Mr. Trudeau, Your style, vibrance, confidence, eloquence, wit, intellect made you so attractive (and sexy!). You would have been the ultimate dinner party guest." -- Susan Wheatley, Ottawa
"Pierre, you made me a better Canadian. Thank you." -- Olivier Jarvis, Orleans, Ont.
"Dear Pierre Elliott Trudeau, You were the best priminister we ever knew about and we think you were the best priminister in the wole world." -- Dylan and Kelan
"May we have the courage to follow your example." -- Louise O'Connor, Ottawa.
"M. Trudeau, I write to you in both English and French because for me, the greatest gift you gave was the source of my pride in being bilingual. Tu seras toujours la rose éternelle de notre pays." -- Yvonne Huot
"Goodbye, good friend. Goodbye, Mr. Pierre Eliott Trudeau. Goodbye, Mr. Prime Minister. You're my only idol. We will love you forever. Rest in Peace." -- Anonymous
"We are French and also Canadian. Merci et Salut." -- Anonymous.
"Dear Trudeau family, Thank you for sharing Pierre with us all. He touched our hearts and changed our lives forever." -- Anonymous
From the guest book in the Hall of Honour:
"You are an integral part of Canada's history. You will be missed." -- Chris McDougall
"I am very greatful that both my sons have the chance to live in this beautiful country that is Canada. Thanks to you, Mr. Trudeau." -- Edmée Nyah
"He said Canada should be a just society and he showed us how we might." -- Anonymous