Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
United in grief
Pierre Trudeau's passing prompts an unprecedented outpouring of emotion from Canadians great and small, coast to coast
By TU THANH HA AND MARK MACKINNON
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, September 30, 2000
MONTREAL, OTTAWA -- A nation plunged into mourning by the death of Pierre Trudeau will turn to Parliament Hill's historic Hall of Honour today to begin a four-day public farewell to one of its most brilliant sons.
The bells of the Peace Tower will toll 81 times -- the former prime minister's age plus one -- as a hearse arrives at 10 a.m.
After private visits by family and dignitaries, tens of thousands of people are expected to file past the closed coffin amid the marble pillars and limestone walls etched with scenes from Canada's history.
A short distance away is the House of Commons, the stage he dominated for two decades as he captivated, and sometimes infuriated, the country.
Just inside the hall, a portrait of Mr. Trudeau has been taken off the wall and placed on a stand so it will be the first thing seen by anyone entering. In front of it are a dozen red roses in a crystal vase.
Mr. Trudeau's body will remain there until Monday, when, after a 19-gun salute, his casket will be returned in a black-curtained train car to Montreal to lie in state until a funeral the next day at Notre-Dame Basilica, the city's towering, 3,000-seat Roman Catholic church. The family has requested a private burial.
Across the country, people yesterday tried to come to terms with the loss of one of Canada's legendary figures.
In Montreal, a steady stream of well-wishers arrived in front of Mr. Trudeau's house on the slope of Mount Royal to leave flowers and mementos in tribute to the former prime minister, who died Thursday of cancer.
Early in the morning, a nine-year-old girl and her mother rang the doorbell of the art deco house. When caretaker Gerald Wall opened the door, the girl gave him a handmade card and said that she and her class would pray for Mr. Trudeau.
Already at that time of the morning, nearly two dozen bouquets lay at the doorstep, still frosted from the night's cold, Mr. Wall recalled.
"It's been overwhelming, the amount of love and praise that's been coming out," he said, adding that there wasn't room left in the house for all the flowers, cards, flags and even a Bible left by the public.
In Ottawa, leaders from all parties offered tributes to the man who towered over Canadian politics for three decades.
"Pierre Trudeau was a man like no other," Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said.
"He was a man of brilliance and learning, a man of action, a man of grace and style, a man of wit and playfulness.
"Pierre, you made us young; you made us proud; you made us dream. Merci, dear friend, and farewell."
Even some Quebec separatists showed their respect. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe praised Mr. Trudeau's role in fighting in the 1950s to make society less authoritarian and commended him for liberalizing the Criminal Code.
But the death of Mr. Trudeau, who spent a lifetime battling them, divided and befuddled Quebec separatists, torn as they were between decorum and their long-held animosity toward him.
While most Parti Québécois ministers respectfully lauded Mr. Trudeau for his intellect and dedication, Municipal Affairs Minister Louise Harel said he was too confrontational.
Claude Morin, the PQ intergovernmental affairs minister during the 1980 referendum and the repatriation of the Constitution, went even further. He called the reaction to Mr. Trudeau's death "a festival of hypocrites."
Also, while Canadian flags flew at half-mast everywhere -- even the one with the Canadian Olympic delegation in Sydney -- it was 1 p.m. yesterday before the Fleur-de-lis was lowered at the Quebec National Assembly.
Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, who met with reporters an hour later, turned testy when they asked him about the flag.
The decision was only made by noon, Mr. Bouchard said, because he first wanted to check with protocol officials the precedents for lowering the Quebec flag when a prime minister died.
Mr. Bouchard, who campaigned for Mr. Trudeau in the 1968 elections, lauded the former prime minister's personal qualities but shied away from assessing his political legacy, saying it was too complex.
"It's not just black and white," Mr. Bouchard said.
"There'll be historians and biographers who'll spend years on this. Don't ask me in a few seconds to make pronouncements on such an important question."
Beyond political finger-pointing, the emotions of the day belonged to ordinary people who felt touched one way or another by Mr. Trudeau.
By evening, hundreds of red roses surrounded Parliament Hill's Centennial Flame, which burns as a memorial of Canada's 100th birthday, celebrated in 1967, one year before Mr. Trudeau swept into office.
Ottawa resident Kerstin Connor said she laid three roses, one for herself and one for each of her children, but also one for each occasion she met the former prime minister.
She recalled seeing him at Expo 1970 in Japan. Mr. Trudeau, she said, "made a beeline" for her because she had a child on her hip. He even gave her a hug.
"I loved him. I thought he was the most passionate, intelligent person ever, and I'm very sorry."
Some gestures were striking in their simple beauty. One card by the flame was signed "Wendy" and read: "Mr. Trudeau, Thank you for many years of service to Canada. Thanks for the Constitution, thanks for the Charter, and for your vision of Canada. We promise to take good care of it."
Another man spread a Canadian flag on the ground and proceeded to pile red dirt, which he said he brought from Prince Edward Island, on the four corners to keep it from blowing away. To the maple leaf in the centre he pinned a sign: "PEI will remember you, Mr. Trudeau. A real Canadian."
In St. John's, Newfoundlanders paid their respects by signing a book of condolence at the provincial legislature, filling several pages within hours. Nearby was a large portrait of Mr. Trudeau placed between bouquets of his trademark red roses.