DATELINE October 18, 1919 – Pierre Elliot Trudeau is born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. While he was born into wealth, when he became Prime Minister in 1968 there were no Canadians who didn’t think he also spoke for the “little guy.”
I shook Pierre Trudeau‘s hand once. It was 1967. I was a 15 year-old ‘Merkin and at summer camp, which was in Michigan. Every year, in an effort to shoehorn culture into us, we would be sent to Stratford, Ontario to take in a Shakespeare play. We were waiting in front of the playhouse and the doors were still closed, long past the time they should have opened. Several of us were milling around on the steps, hoping to be the first to get inside.
Suddenly a black limousine pulled up, a man jumped out of the back, and the crowd went wild. Suddenly all the Canadians erupted in applause and cheering. As the doors to the playhouse opened, and we were held back from entering, PET bounded up the few stairs shaking hands all the way as the crowd magically parted for him. I was right at the door. Pierre Trudeau turned to his left, where I standing, and reached out to shake my hand. I reached back. For 2 seconds we were connected. Then he ran into the theater. The audience was held back another few minutes so he could get settled, but the crowd waiting was ELECTRIFIED. I had never seen anything like it before. I turned to the closest Canadian and asked, “Who was that?”
“That’s Pierre Trudeau. He’s our Justice Minister,” words that meant absolutely nothing to me at the time. Skip ahead a few years. By 1971 I was living in Canada and Pierre Trudeau was MY Prime Minister.
Trudeau was a transformational politician. He was a Rock Star. He was loved and hated, but remained Prime Minister until his defeat in 1979. However, just a year later the Joe Clark government fell on a Motion of Non-Confidence and the Liberals won the subsequent election, with PET serving as Prime Minister until 1984 when he decided to retire.
Pierre Trudeau will always be known as the Prime Minister who patriated the Constitution from Great Britain in 1982.
This documentary was made during the period when Pierre Trudeau was still Justice Minister and shaking my hand. It was made by celebrated Canadian journalist Norman DePoe for the CBC program News Magazine.
Pierre Trudeau died in 2000 and the entire nation mourned.