Canada's Camelot remembered as Trudeau dies

Click to follow
The Independent US

With the death of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Canadians lost their own version of Camelot.

With the death of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Canadians lost their own version of Camelot.

Trudeau, 80, died of prostate cancer at his Montreal home Thursday. The news triggered a stream of Kennedy-esque reminiscing and photos rolling across Canadian television screens: the prime minister frolicking with his three young sons, with a beautiful wife on his arm, or in the heat of a passionate speech laced with liberal idealism.

Trudeau - who like John Kennedy embraced progressive ideals in the revolutionary 1960s - was suffering from Parkinson's disease and still recovering from 10 days of pneumonia earlier this year.

A French Canadian who fought for national unity, his charisma and irreverence helped define an era.

Trudeau once danced pirouettes behind the back of Queen Elizabeth. He wore sandals in Parliament, and called journalists "trained seals." He dated singers and actresses like Barbra Streisand and Margot Kidder before marrying Margaret Sinclair in 1971, a woman then half his age.

Though named Canada's newsmaker of the millennium by journalists, Trudeau was increasingly private since retiring from public life in 1984.

Funeral arrangements had not been announced late Thursday. Prime Minister Jean Chretien canceled a Caribbean summit in Jamaica to fly home. Chretien built his political life in the centrist Liberal Party as a minister in Trudeau's cabinets.

Trudeau's powerful influence on Canada was apparent far beyond the crowds gathered outside his home on a Montreal hilltop.

Airline flight attendants at the Toronto airport sobbed watching the coverage on terminal televisions. In Ottawa, a young man in tears laid a single, long-stemmed red rose at the Centennial Flame.

"He was a very passionate guy who enjoyed life," said Chris Tian, 26, of Vancouver. "I'm devastated."

"He made Canada cool, he really did," said Reed Haley of St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

Trudeau was too big for any stereotype: he was a skilled debater, and an outdoorsman with a love for canoeing.

He was a policy expert and a political visionary - his vision birthed Canada's constitution in 1982.

"Pierre Trudeau opened a dynamic new era in Canadian politics and helped establish Canada's unique imprint on the global stage," President Clinton said Thursday from Washington.

But the chummy relationship Canada now enjoys with the United States wasn't always so cozy during the Cold War and Trudeau's reign. President Richard Nixon insulted him on the now famous private tape-recorded meetings. During a summit, President Ronald Reagan blew up at Trudeau over his Russian relations.

In a 1969 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Trudeau offered this take on sharing a continent with the United States.

"Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant," he told America. "No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."

Trudeau was prime minister from 1968 to 1984, with a brief break in 1979. Pundits dubbed his early years "Trudeaumania."

He ushered in the metric system, made French an official language, and enshrined a Canadian bill of rights in the 1982 constitution. He also had a keen interest in foreign affairs, where he promoted peacekeeping forces, then still a fairly new concept.

Trudeau and his wife had three sons: Justin, Sacha, and Michel. Trudeau kept custody after the couple separated in 1997. In a Kennedy-like twist, Michel tumbled to death in a skiing accident in British Columbia in 1998. Close friends and family say Trudeau never recovered from the loss.

Trudeau was born Oct. 19, 1919, to a wealthy family in Montreal. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Montreal and a master's degree in political economy from Harvard University in 1945.

He drew strong opposition from fellow French-Canadians in the separatist movement. Trudeau frowned upon Quebec's desire to split from Canada's confederation, refusing to take cover when separatists hurled bottles at him during campaign rallies. He became the only prime minister to invoke the War Measures Act at home, sending troops into Montreal and Ottawa in 1970, after separatist terrorists kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte.

"Pierre Trudeau was the most distinguished Canadian of our times," said Ujjal Dosanjh, premier of British Columbia. "I believe that in the last 40 to 50 years, no one put Canada on the world map of international affairs as well as he did in a constructive and assertive fashion."

Comments