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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

The people remember
September 28, 2000

All flags on Parliament Hill were lowered to half mast Thursday evening as visitors to Pierre Elliott Trudeau's hilly Mont-Royal neighbourhood placed flowers outside his home and pay their silent respects.

Robert Elman, a neighbour of Mr. Trudeau's, said the ex-prime minister was a gentleman.

"He was a very neighbourly person," Mr. Elman noted. "My wife would see him walking and he always tipped the hat."

Famed classical guitarist Leona Boyd, who had a romantic relationship with Mr. Trudeau, spoke with CTV's Lloyd Robertson from Los Angeles.

"I think he was one of the most important people in my life ... and I really treasure the time I had with him," she said. "I saw a different side of him than the public would have seen, in quite times canoeing or hiking with the boys."

Ms. Boyd said she was often struck by his devotion and love for his sons, and that the death of Michel was a tragedy from which he never recovered.

Radio stations in Montreal devoted entire four-hour segments of their programs to discussing Mr. Trudeau's life and legacy. CBC television halted Olympic coverage to air live statements from politicians across the country.

People on the streets of Montreal, where Mr. Trudeau spent his last years in a house on Pine Avenue, spoke of his charisma, his impact on Canadians, and the unique relationship he had with the nation.

"If he had another life to lead, I always said I'd vote for him for prime minister again," a Montreal woman told CJAD radio.

Montreal radio station CJAD joined the airwaves with its sister station in Toronto, CFRB 1010, to let Canadians remember the former prime minister who many called for to appear on the 20-dollar bill.

"He's the last politician that I know of who wasn't ruled by polls or handlers," said a woman calling from Laval, Que. "He did what he thought was best for our country... So many times over the years, watching other politicians, I thought, 'Mr. Trudeau wouldn't have done that.'"

A woman named Patty who worked at the Montreal hospital where Mr. Trudeau was a patient said she will never forget his graceful and unassuming manner.

The first time she encountered him, she said he was "such a nonchalant man who just came up to me and put his medicard down on the counter.

"I stood up, my chair went flying, and I saluted him. He laughed so hard that for months after, he'd salute me when he saw me."

Another caller, a Montreal taxi driver remembered once while he was lost on Pine Avenue, Mr. Trudeau was out for a walk and approached his cab.

"He came up to me, I had my window open, and he asked me if I was lost. I stuck my hand out and wanted to shake his hand, and said, 'It's just a great honour to meet you,'" said Ted.

"He was very, very nice. I was shocked by this whole thing... He was a man who had guts and he had a backbone. I'm really going to miss him a lot."

In other parts of Canada, people reacted with respect and incredible outpouring.

"I very much regret he's gone. I admired him for his statesmanship. Another sign of his greatness was the heads of other countries thought very highly of him," Jim Riley, 71, from Edmonton, said.

"He was a very passionate guy who enjoyed life, you know, and was kind of a crazy and a nice guy and strong-minded and he had a good will. He loved Canada and he was very good at being distinctly unique. He was his own person. I'm devastated. I was really a big fan of his." said Chris Tian, 26, of Vancouver.

"I find it very disturbing. Of course, I extend condolences to his family but also to all of Canada. He was Canada. He put us on the map. He gave us glamour and political integrity... He believed in Canada," said one caller to Montreal's CJAD radio station.

Some critics were unrelenting in their criticism of Mr. Trudeau, who was well-known for his controversial policies that included enacting the War Measures Act in 1970.

"Good riddance. I don't know if we'll go and spit on his tomb but it's good to get rid of an enemy like that," Raymond Villeneuve, Quebec separatist and former Front de libération du Québec terrorist, said.

But even those who were born after he left politics felt the significance of his passing.

"Although it's very sad that he passed away this afternoon I want to give him thanks. He gave a lot of privileges to people that didn't have that sort of chance," said 10-year-old Evon Rose of Toronto.

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