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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Mourners pour out respect for Trudeau
The Globe and Mail
Monday, October 2, 2000

"It's Princess Diana all over again," was the way one of my journalist colleagues summed up the growing mound of roses that threatened to clog the fountain that cascades around the Centennial Flame at the entrance to Parliament Hill.

Every 15 or 20 minutes a page from the House of Commons walked down from the Hall of Honour to the fountain with another armload of the roses that people left either as they paused in front of Pierre Trudeau's casket or in front of his portrait, moved from its regular place beside Canada's other prime ministers in a side corridor into the central foyer for the occasion.

There were so many roses that the fountain's water backed up and washed over them, leaving a million beads of water on the petals, glistening and reflecting the flame.

At midnight on Saturday, one hour after the Hall of Honour had originally scheduled to close for the day, the lineup was still three hours long.

Young and old, the modest and the powerful, the curious and the reverential, the WASPs mingling with the multihued, a literal rainbow of humanity. (I saw three people who had served as deputy ministers under Mr. Trudeau plus dozens of other high-level bureaucrats shuffling along in the queue with the hoi polloi late into the night, several marvelling over how orderly and patient everybody was. Very Canadian, eh?)

Of course the Princess Diana comparison is clichéd. Diana was a whole other genre of superstar playing into the complex British psyche about royalty -- a love-hate conundrum that has no resonance in Canada.

Mr. Trudeau's death has triggered something quite different. The former prime minister struck a chord with such a wide swath of Canadians during his time on centre stage that his death has caused it to reverberate again.

In the 16 years since he took his walk in the snow, many of us have forgotten just how profound that Trudeau chord was and are taken aback by its endurance. Why would so many -- probably more than 50,000 just on Parliament Hill plus many thousands who visited memorials elsewhere -- feel so compelled to come and shuffle and wait for up to four hours just to have their 10 seconds in front of the bier?

Conversations with many of those who filed past suggest it is not a need to grieve that brought them here as much as a compulsion to show respect and to say goodbye. The triumph of positive spirit over sadness. Some are red-eyed and there is a box of tissues on each of the 40 tables set out in the corridor where people could sit down and write in a remembrance book.

A surprisingly high proportion make the sign of the cross as they bow -- maybe the Roman Catholic Church is not in as much trouble as is commonly thought. Most put their hand briefly on the flag that covers the casket -- one last touch of the hem. Some women kiss their hand first and then touch the casket.

It's a humbling experience to scan the comments in the memorial books. Many are so personal it is clear the writers believe Mr. Trudeau will be able to read them from wherever he now is. The most recurring theme was praise for his vision or respect.

Herewith a sampling:

Monique Louise Mitchell: "Although I wasn't born when you were prime minister, I felt the need to show respect."

M. J. Tanguay: "You made it a better Canada."

Carl Marin: "Thank you for lending us your greatness."

Maryanne Clegg: "Thank you for keeping us together."

Daniel Chartrand: "Fier d'etre Canadien."

Anonymous: "You always made us think."

I don't know who or how old Patrick Mohan is. He may not have realized the double entendre in his note: "Mr. Trudeau, you are a grate(sic) man." But he summed up so much of the former prime minister -- great because, in part, he was prepared to grate so fearlessly.

It is obvious Canadians believe they are saying goodbye to one of a kind, a very special leader, who fundamentally influenced their Canadian experience.

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