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GiveLife.ca

    
Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
1919-2000


'Je t'aime papa'
By JOHN GRAY and TU THANH HA
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Montreal -- Canada bade a sad farewell to Pierre Trudeau yesterday and said adieu to the man who had led his country for the better part of a generation and claimed for Canada a place on the world's stage.

The thousands who crowded into the majestic Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal or watched on television across the country heard his old friend Jacques Hébert describe the former prime minister as "a hero and a giant, a sort of superman, proud and courageous, a knight of another era."

Or they watched through tears as Mr. Trudeau's handsome son Justin, choked with emotion, whispered "Je t'aime, papa" at the end of a moving eulogy to his father, then sobbed as he pressed his forehead to the flag-draped coffin.

The two-hour Roman Catholic funeral was the final stage in a five-day mourning period after the death at 80 of the former prime minister on Thursday. He was buried yesterday beside his mother, Grace Elliott, in the cemetery at St-Remi-de-Napierville.

After a weekend when more than 50,000 mourners paid homage to Mr. Trudeau as his body lay in state in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, thousands more went to Montreal City Hall to pay their respects until 4 yesterday morning.

Almost 3,000 mourners crowded into the 170-year-old basilica, and there were more than that who lined the nearby streets and pressed against the crash barriers across the street to watch the ceremony on a huge television screen.

Inside and outside, they wept and they cheered the memory of the man who may have been hated almost as much as he was loved, but who was for Canadians a prime minister different from any they had ever had or ever expected.

There was wave after wave of emotion, from the time the funeral cortege arrived until it left more than two hours later, with mourners throwing the red roses that became the special symbol of Pierre Trudeau.

A day made dark by low clouds and funeral clothes was brightened by splashes of red: Maple Leaf flags on office buildings and in the hands of mourners, red roses everywhere, the scarlet tunics of the RCMP pallbearers.

The thousands who assembled at Notre Dame in the two hours before the funeral were a reminder how greatly Mr. Trudeau dominated Canada's public life for a generation.

There were old allies like former premier William Davis of Ontario, old foes like Conservative Leader Joe Clark, and old colleagues like former prime minister John Turner. And premiers, cabinet ministers and MPs from every stage of Mr. Trudeau's remarkable career.

Among the scores of diplomats and foreign visitors, there were two reminders in particular of Mr. Trudeau's international reputation: Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Castro and Mr. Carter were seen in animated conversation together after they entered the basilica, but in years past Mr. Trudeau's close ties with the Cuban leader enraged a succession of other American presidents.

It would not have brought joy to the U.S. State Department to see Mr. Castro in the same church pew as Mr. Carter, immediately behind the Trudeau family.

Mr. Trudeau's son Sacha read one of the lessons, and Mr. Hébert and Roy Heenan, another of Mr. Trudeau's long-time friends, delivered eulogies, but it was the eulogy from Justin that made the service extraordinary.

In the days leading up to the funeral, the dark-haired Justin, who closely resembles his mother Margaret, seemed the more emotionally torn of the two brothers.

But he began with humour, telling a story about a trip to the North Pole with his father when he was 6. At a stop in Alert, Canada's northernmost point, he was taken one day to a red building and told to peer in 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."

The eulogy was an paean of love to a man known to the rest of the world as a statesman, intellectual, professor, adversary, outdoorsman, lawyer, author and prime minister.

"But more than anything else, to me, he was Dad. And what a dad! He loved us with the passion and the devotion that encompassed his life. He taught us to believe in ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, to know ourselves and to accept responsibility for ourselves.

"We knew we were the luckiest kids in the world."

The speech was by turns electrifying, poetic and politically astute.

Justin told a story of once, as a boy, making a silly grade-school joke about his father's political adversary, Joe Clark.

Mr. Trudeau, he said, sternly rebuked him, lecturing the boy about the importance of never denigrating anyone, even those with whom you profoundly disagree.

As the crowd chuckled knowingly, Justin delivered the real message of the story with Trudeauesque flair: "This simple tolerance and recognition of the real and profound dimensions of each human being, regardless of beliefs, origins, or values: That's what he expected of his children, and that's what he expected of his country."

It was at the end -- "He won't be coming any more. It's up to us, all of us, now" -- that Justin choked and broke down.

He ended with a rewriting of a verse from the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, which his father liked to quote.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. He has kept his promises and earned his sleep."

Justin then whispered, "Je t'aime, papa."

The audience, including some of the world's noted orators, hung on every word and, at the end, stood and applauded.

When he made his way back to the pew, he was hugged in a tearful embrace by both his mother and his brother.

Margaret Trudeau was absent when the funeral train brought Mr. Trudeau's body to Montreal from Ottawa on Monday. But she walked and sat between her two sons yesterday.

In the same pew were Deborah Coyne and her daughter Sarah Coyne, who was born of a brief relationship with Mr. Trudeau after he left political life.

It was nine-year-old Sarah's first appearance as a public figure. She seemed unaware of the magnitude of the moment.

She looked up as Fidel Castro kissed her head; then Jimmy Carter hugged her. When she got inside the church, she held a rose petal in her hand, and as she walked up the aisle she tried very hard not to step on the cracks between the tiles.

There were other children in the spotlight. Before entering the basilica, Justin saw Isabelle Simard, a 10-year-old girl holding a rose, and asked that she step inside to place the flower on the coffin.

Then, coming out, he saw Peter Tenneson, 12, and his 11-year-old sister, Christine, who were holding a Canadian flag. He gave them a red rose.

The ranks of curious spectators, with and without red roses, spent much of their time celebrity-spotting. And it was a day for celebrities.

In the hour or two before the funeral service began, the stretch of Notre Dame Street in front of the basilica looked like a reunion of the movers and shakers of the federal government and the Liberal party 20 and 30 years ago.

They were a Who's Who of the Trudeau years: Donald Macdonald, Jean Chrétien, Eric Kierans, Marc Lalonde, Herb Gray, John Turner, Joyce Fairbairn, Jim Coutts, Keith Davey, Monique Bégin, Roméo Leblanc, Francis Fox, Michael Pitfield, Eugene Whelan, John Rae and dozens of others.

There were others of that era who never wore the colours of the Liberal party but who went on to further prominence: former chief justice Antonio Lamer, former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae, former senior civil servant Robert Rabinovitch, who went on to become president of the CBC, and Edward Schreyer, former premier of Manitoba who became governor-general.

Scores of diplomats came to Montreal by bus, courtesy of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The skies remained overcast until the service was over and the guests began spilling out of the basilica. As the coffin was carried down the steps, the sun came out.

As the cortege began its final journey down Notre Dame Street with a guard of honour of the 12th Armored Regiment in Valcartier, the square was shaken by church bells and a 19-gun salute.

Later, invited guests went to a packed reception given by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. A floor above the reception, a more select gathering took place for the likes of Mr. Chrétien, Mr. Castro and former French prime minister Raymond Barre.

The reception, like many gatherings across the country for the past five days, was a time for remembering the man who burst so spectacularly onto the Canadian consciousness in the spring of 1968.

The spell Mr. Trudeau cast on Canadian politics could be felt in the admissions that both Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, a Péquiste, and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, a Conservative, had campaigned for the federal Liberals in the late 1960s, both enthralled by Mr. Trudeau's charisma.

"I was consumed by Trudeaumania and was electrified as a young man when he visited Alberta," Mr. Klein said.

Claude Ryan, the former Quebec Liberal leader who was Mr. Trudeau's ally during the 1980 referendum, said: "I pray to God that he be happy in eternity in the peace of God; he well deserved it. I hope he has peace for eternity."

It was a day to recall Mr. Trudeau's greatness.

"He made me," Mr. Chrétien said. "He had confidence in me very early. . . . He was a fabulous man."

There were also sad memories. Mr. Chrétien's chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, remembered seeing a side of Mr. Trudeau few others had ever witnessed, at a private supper two years ago, shortly after the death of his youngest son Michel.

"The man was in tears. The man was absolutely broken by the death of his son. I don't think he ever recovered."


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