April 22nd, 2024

Friends, family pay heartfelt tribute as Brian Mulroney remembered in Montreal

By Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press on March 23, 2024.

People line up to pay their respects to the Mulroney family at St. Patrick's Basilica where former prime minister Brian Mulroney lies in repose in Montreal on Friday, March 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

MONTREAL – Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was remembered Saturday as a larger-than-life figure who transcended politics, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of the many people he touched in a long and momentous life.

The first person to eulogize Mulroney was his daughter, Caroline, who described her father as an attentive and caring parent, grandfather, political mentor and friend.

“My dad saw the world in a bigger way than most,” she told the audience during a sprawling state funeral at Montreal’s cavernous Notre-Dame Basilica.

“His humanity defined him, which is why he transcended politics and connected with people in a way that left an indelible mark on their hearts and souls.”

The crowd, many made up of Canada’s past and present political elites, laughed as Mulroney poked gentle fun at her father’s love of the spotlight – including a suggestion he wanted be buried with a podium to make speeches – and heard her voice waver as she told more personal stories of his love for her, her three brothers, and his wife Mila Mulroney, his partner of 51 years.

“Every day of my life, my dad told me that I was the greatest daughter that God put on this earth,” she said.

“Now we all know how much he liked hyperbole. But how lucky am I that for almost 50 years I was told something so wonderful every single day.”

Through tears, she ended her speech, “We adored him. I miss you, daddy.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described his predecessor as a prime minister motivated by service, leadership, and “getting the big things right.”

In his eulogy, he said Mulroney fought for important causes including free trade, standing up against apartheid in South Africa, and repairing the ozone layer.

“As he put it himself, leaders must have vision and they must find the courage to fight for the policies that will give that vision life,” Trudeau said.

And he made a thinly veiled jab at Canada’s current federal political landscape: “Leaders must govern not for easy headlines in 10 days, but for a better Canada in 10 years.”

Earlier, an RCMP honour guard carried the flag-draped casket of Canada’s 18th prime minister into Notre-Dame Basilica. Music filled the church as the casket was carried inside, followed by family members and a group of honorary pallbearers made up of his closest friends.

Earlier, the church’s bells tolled 84 times, signalling the beginning of a funeral procession for the former prime minister – one resounding chime for each year of his life.

The hearse left St. Patrick’s Basilica under a steady curtain of falling snow for the kilometre-long journey, accompanied by an RCMP mounted escort and pallbearers, a Canadian Armed Forces honour guard and the Royal Canadian Air Force band.

The ceremony got underway in the presence of a diverse cross-section of Canadian society, from Trudeau to hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Early Saturday, police cars sat in the snow blocking off the streets, their lights flashing, as officers directed onlookers away from the series of metal barricades and media tents that occupied the square in front of the Gothic-style church.

By 9:30 a.m. the sanctuary was already flled with the buzz of crowd noise as several hundred early arrivals mingled in the aisles, including former cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Peter Van Loan, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Gretzky, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Quebec businessman Pierre-Karl Péladeau also delivered eulogies at the religious ceremony led by Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine.

The funeral was also bringing together much of Canada’s political class, past and present. In addition to Trudeau, the guest list included four former prime ministers – Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark and Stephen Harper, as well as 12 current provincial premiers or territorial leaders, the leaders of all the major federal opposition parties, and several foreign ambassadors.

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was also on the list, as was former British prime minister John Major, actor Ryan Reynolds and members of prominent business families such as Molson, Irving and Bronson.

The funeral follows four days of public tributes in Montreal and Ottawa during which political dignitaries and members of the public filed past Mulroney’s casket and paid their respects to his wife and four children.

Mulroney’s sons said they wanted the funeral to be a chance to celebrate their father’s life with a “party” that includes music, laughter and funny stories.

“He loved a good party, so that’s a promise from the family,” his son Nicolas Mulroney told The Canadian Press on Thursday. “It’ll be a funeral on paper, but it will be a party to many.”

Ben Mulroney, for his part, said the mood would be lightened by the presence of his father’s 16 grandchildren, some of whom might be running around.

“I hope there’s some funny moments because I know that there are going to be some overwhelming moments for me,” he said. “And I find that that humour about him allows me to turn off the tears.”

Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at age 84, was prime minister for nine years between 1984 and 1993 and led the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

His legacy includes the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico during his time as prime minister, his participation in the fight against South African apartheid, the 1991 acid rain accord and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.

There will be a 19-gun salute in Montreal’s Old Port following the ceremony. The family will hold a private burial in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2024.

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