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A Dynasty Is Born
When Canada’s Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau won the October 2015 election by a landslide, a political dynasty was born.
It’s no surprise that Justin was destined for politics. Politics is in his DNA. His mother’s father, James Sinclair, was a Member of the Canadian Parliament from 1940 to ’49. He was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons, representing the riding of Vancouver North in the 1940 federal election, and was the only MP who served in World War II.
A liberal, he was re-elected in 1945, ’49, ’53, and ’57 in the riding of Coast-Capilano. He was defeated in the 1958 federal election. From 1949 to ’52, he was the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance. From 1952 to ’57, he was the Minister of Fisheries.
This dynasty is more Kennedy than Bush: charismatic, liberal-minded, and socially conscious. And not without scandal. Or tragedy.
Marriage of Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Sinclair
As an 18-year-old vacationing in Tahiti with her family, Margaret Sinclair met Pierre Trudeau, who was then Minister of Justice. Sinclair did not recognize him, and she, in fact, thought little of their encounter, but Trudeau was captivated by the carefree “flower child”, thirty years younger than he, and began to pursue her. Pierre Trudeau was still a bachelor when he became Prime Minister in 1968.
After keeping their romance private, he astonished the country by marrying the 22-year-old Sinclair on March 4, 1971. Though the couple initially appeared to have a very close and loving relationship, the marriage soon began to fall apart. Margaret resented her husband’s constant work-related absences and was forced to raise her three young sons largely by herself. Beyond the normal extensive publicity that her high-profile position brought, on a few instances, she made her own headlines.
Margaret smuggled drugs in the prime minister’s luggage, made scantily clad appearances at Studio 54, and tore apart a quilt work made by Canadian conceptual artist Joyce Wieland that hung on the wall in the prime minister’s official residence in Ottawa because it celebrated “reason over passion”.
Margaret had an affair with US Senator Ted Kennedy. She was also associated with members of the Rolling Stones, including Ronnie Wood and (according to Keith Richards’s autobiography, Life) Mick Jagger. Suffering from stress and bouts of bipolar depression, she separated from her husband in 1977 and became a much-talked-about jet-setter. She gave many “tell-all” interviews to Canadian and American magazines and appeared in two motion pictures.
Death of Michel Trudeau
The death of the couple’s youngest son 23-year-old Michel Trudeau was a family tragedy. Michel was working at Red Mountain Resort and living in Rossland, British Columbia, for a year when he took a backcountry skiing trip with some friends in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. He died as a result of an avalanche on November 13, 1998. He was swept into Kokanee Lake and unable to reach the shore.
His companions were unable to effect a rescue, and Trudeau drowned. An extensive search was launched, but his body has never been found. The lake’s high altitude and limited days of open waters each year prevented divers from completing the search. The Trudeau family called off the recovery and later created a chalet nearby as a memorial.
Needless to say, the family was devastated by this loss. Justin wrote in his memoir Common Ground, “My own opinion was that the lights began to dim in my father’s soul when Michel died. He recovered from his pneumonia within a few weeks and even travelled a bit after that. But from the time we buried Michel until his own passing two years later, my father was never the same man. My mother endured horrific, debilitating grief at losing her son, compounded by and compounding her mental health issues. She went through an extremely difficult period that left her entire family struggling to help during the five or six years that followed his death.”
Justin’s parents were regarded more like rock stars than political figures in their days of reign. One journalist described Pierre as “a deceptively diminutive man who somehow always seemed taller than life.” His first election in 1968 inspired a frenzied fandom among young voters that became known as “Trudeaumania”. And his administration included many historic accomplishments like making both French and English the official languages of the federal government.
Though Justin’s rise to the role of Prime Minister was a tough struggle (having Pierre Trudeau as his father is a double-edged sword), in hindsight, we can see that it was natural for him to follow in his father’s career footsteps.
As the firstborn of three brothers, he grew up occupying a special place in the public eye. “He is our John-John or Prince William,” says the National Post’s Coyne. He lived a celebrity childhood. Justin’s birth at Ottawa Civic Hospital on Christmas Day 1971—the first infant born to a sitting prime minister in a century—was cause for national celebration.
Telegrams and phone calls arrived from global dignitaries, along with thousands of letters from Canadians and more hand-knitted sweaters, bonnets and booties than his parents knew what to do with. When Pierre took them to work, Justin and his brothers played tag or hide-and-seek in the corridors of Parliament. When Pierre traveled the world, the boys took turns coming along. As a boy, Justin met Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Schmidt, Ronald Reagan and other world leaders. As shown in the photos, his father was a doting mentor to him.
But while Justin was born to the crown, he was also ambivalent about it. “My whole life,” he said in an interview, “has been about figuring out the balance between knowing who I am and being who I am and accepting that people will come to me with all sorts of preconceptions.” Rather than cannonball into politics, he spent his twenties teaching French, drama, and math at a private school in Vancouver and even worked as a snowboard instructor.
Here are a select few of the many, many photos of this beloved and charismatic family.
Meeting the Queen of England . . . Again
Her Majesty greeted Prime Minister Trudeau by saying it was “nice to see you again… but under different circumstances.”
“I will say, you were much taller than me the last time we met,” Trudeau told the Queen, 40 years after being introduced by his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, as a three-year-old.
“Well, this is extraordinary to think of, isn’t it,” the Queen replied with a laugh.