Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Poignant tributes mark last trip home
Small-town Canada says its farewells with tears, flowers, silence and applause as funeral train heads to Montreal
By MARK MacKINNON; With a report from Tu Thanh Ha
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, October 3, 2000
MONTREAL -- He stood by the side of the tracks, somewhere between the tiny towns of Casselman and Maxville, Ont., seemingly a long way from anywhere.
Wearing a jean jacket and a bandana, his solemn face framed by a grizzly beard, and a huge beer belly straining his belt, he hardly looked the part of a Trudeau Liberal.
Yet as the train carrying the body of the former prime minister passed, he straightened his back and brought his right hand up to salute, as though the two had once been comrades-in-arms.
His reasons for paying tribute yesterday and his name would remain unknown to the family and friends of Mr. Trudeau and others on the train, as would those of thousands of others who lined the tracks.
The 187-kilometre route from Ottawa to Montreal was marked by dozens of such memorable scenes as Pierre Elliott Trudeau made the final journey home for his funeral today.
The train ride, though barely more than two hours long, provided perhaps the most stunning testimonial yet to the wide-ranging and enduring popularity of the former prime minister.
At each of the dozen or so small towns the train passed, crowds waved Canadian flags, thrusting roses at the train. Applause broke out several times for Mr. Trudeau's sons, Justin and Sacha, who rode in the last car with their father's casket, leaning out a window to acknowledge the outpouring.
The black drapes on the funeral car were pulled back so onlookers could see the flag-covered casket as the train rolled by.
In tiny Alexandria, Ont., with its population of 3,500, more than 2,000 people cheered the train as it slowed almost to a halt. As parents cried or solemnly held pictures of Mr. Trudeau aloft, their children cheered as though a rock star were passing through, reaching out to touch the side of the train, throwing roses as it passed. A lone bagpiper on a hill played Last Post.
In one particularly poignant moment, Sacha Trudeau reached out and took a rose offered to him by a girl in her school uniform. Nearby, a woman clad in Trudeauesque buckskin held a canoe paddle over her head, a silent salute to a kindred spirit.
"The boys were quite moved by the crowds," said Dominic LeBlanc, son of former governor-general Roméo LeBlanc, one of the dignitaries on the train, said later of Justin and Sacha. He recalled that at Alexandria, when someone in the crowd had shouted "We love you Pierre" so loud that it was audible over the noise of the train, the brothers looked particularly touched and exchanged glances.
Though the train didn't stop between Ottawa and Montreal, the scene was similar at almost every station. Crowds from towns so small you'd have trouble finding them on the map -- Hawthorne, Carlsbad Springs, Glen Robertson, De Beaujeu, Coteau -- came out to say thank you to the man many believe defeated the separatists in the 1980 referendum. That's no small accomplishment among residents living along the Ontario-Quebec boundary.
One sign held up by a mourner just inside the Quebec border read, "Rest in peace, patriot."
Even between towns, the emotional tribute continued. At nearly every crossing Via Rail Train 638 approached, drivers stood at the roadside and clapped.
There were many touching images: A group of seniors clustered on a hill in front of their retirement home, some taking a hand off their walkers to wave as the train rolled by.
Attendants at a rural gas station, who one by one stopped pumping and saluted. At one station, a native woman held an election poster from the famed 1968 race, when Mr. Trudeau first captivated the nation and swept to power.
For a while, a beaten brown Buick tried to keep pace with the train, a Canadian flag thrust out one window, a raised fist out the other.
The train originally sped between towns, trying to stay as close as possible to schedule so Mr. Trudeau's body would arrive in time to lie in state at Montreal's City Hall by 11 a.m. But the scenes outside must have caught in the throats of Mr. Trudeau's sons, who asked that the conductors ignore the schedule and slow down everywhere people gathered.
Besides the LeBlancs, other friends of the family on the train included former cabinet minister Marc Lalonde, retired senator Jacques Hébert, and Mr. Trudeau's onetime law partner, Roy Heenan. All were touched by the final scenes of Trudeaumania.
"It's tremendously moving. One could not even have thought there could have been such a resonance. Seeing children who were barely born when Trudeau came out of office all there and lined up, and seeing older men and women crying . . . it's deeply moving," Mr. Lalonde said during the trip.
He said the former prime minister's sons were taking it all in and were holding up "quite courageously," considering how close they were to their father.
"It is heartbreaking for a person like myself. You can imagine what it can be for the sons."
The cheering began in Ottawa, where about 400 people applauded as Mr. Trudeau's flag-covered casket was loaded onto the last car of the funeral train. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his wife Aline attended the sendoff, but did not board the train. The Prime Minister, who was a cabinet minister during much of the time Mr. Trudeau was in office, exchanged hugs with both Justin and Sacha, while Ms. Chrétien kissed each on both cheeks.
As the train neared Montreal, the crowds grew. At Dorval, Que., where more than 1,000 gathered at the station, uniformed schoolchildren waved Quebec and Canadian flags, while teary war veterans stared in silence, hats clasped over their hearts.
A priest blessed the funeral car with the sign of the cross as it passed. Highway 20 East, one of the main arteries between Montreal and Ottawa, was nearly empty of traffic as most of the cars pulled over to watch the train pass.
Along the route, the Fleur-de-lis, like the Maple Leaf, flew at half-mast, a much-debated tribute from the Parti Québécois government of Lucien Bouchard.
The only visible sign that feelings about Mr. Trudeau were once deeply split in this province was a faded "FLQ" -- a reference to the Front de libération du Québec -- that had been spray-painted on a bridge near Dorval.
None of that division was discussed yesterday as the train entered Montreal, a fitting place for Mr. Trudeau's journey to end.