Canada’s “White House” is not well known in the States. Ask an American who the Prime Minister of Canada is and, until recently, those who did not shrug helplessly would answer “Pierre Trudeau.” Today Canada has a new Prime Minister with a very familiar name–Justin Trudeau. Yes, the same family. Pierre’s late-in-life eldest son.
Back in the early 70’s when Americans were still reeling from Vietnam, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK and MX, Canada was shocked to hear that their jet-setting, playboy P.M. had gone away for some skiing and came back married to the daughter of the country’s former Fisheries Minister. Shocked because Margaret Sinclair was only 22 years old to Trudeau’s statesman-like 51 years and balding head.You can see Life magazine’s spread on the wedding here.
Throughout the 70s Margaret Trudeau would almost single-highhandedly put Canada on the map for Americans at least.
At their wedding, not only did Pierre see his bride looking lovely but she did so in a gown of her own design and manufacture. Then the Trudeaus cut a cake the she had personally baked. For traditionalists, this did not bode well for the nation. And, in many ways, the traditionalists were right!
But in the beginning the Trudeaus were happy. Margaret popped out three adorable boys with trendy names–Justin, Sasha and Michel. She openly breastfed them all–at dinner alone with her husband she was known to put a linen napkin on the baby’s head to keep from spilling food on them! But soon enough cracks, predictably, began to appear. Margaret was restless, Pierre was busy. He came home exhausted and put on comfy old clothes and wanted to relax. She dressed up for his arrival and wanted to…ahem…well…she was young…. Let’s say “party” and leave it at that. But for a decade or so the boys kept their parents together. In spite of his previous playboy image, Pierre Trudeau was a devoted and loving father. Justin Trudeau loved camping with his father and the intimacy it afforded them.
When Margaret Trudeau later wrote a gossipy tell-all book about her life as the chatelaine of 24 Sussex Drive [i.e. the Canadian White House] it included sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and much more. Not only did she party with the Rolling Stones, she flirted with Princes Philip, Charles and Andrew and incited the tabloids to speculate that, at least with Charles and schoolboy Prince Andrew, things may have gone beyond polite state dinner monotony-relieving flirtation, which did not please the P.M.s handlers. Nor did the book’s story of snuff-induced sneezes sending shots of snot a-flight appreciated. In short, the Canadian first lady was a loose canon who at times made the later antics of Di and Fergie [the first Fergie, not the singer] seem like harmless boarding school fun.When the divorce seemingly inevitably hit, the boys stayed with Pierre and Margaret went on with her life. She would later write yet another memoir to try to explain herself. [I have not read that one.]
As a teenager I read the book avidly. We had a copy still of the Life magazine with her wedding in it [we had random stuff like that at our house!]. I thought it very romantic that she made the cake and dress and I was a total sucker for an older man–younger woman romance from the day one. I was disappointed in the book to read how much of a partier she was. Later I couldn’t help but wonder if, like Diana saying she loved the country life when she hated it, if Margaret claimed to be a true homebody and then, ring on her finger, went back to her old ways.
Time marched on for the family. Sadly, Pierre and Margaret’s youngest son, Michel, was killed skiing, but the new Prime Minister has not only one living full brother, Sasha Trudeau, but also a much younger (by 20 years) half-sister. For Pierre Trudeau went on to have an affair with Liberal politician Deobrah Coyne, 37 years his junior. Together the couple had a daughter, Sarah, now 21, who was not exactly hidden even if the two families were never formally blended. You can read a little more about Deborah Coyne here. The new P.M. also has two half-brothers from his mother’s later marriage.
So Justin Trudeau, with only one close-in-age wife and three legitimate children ONLY seems like a fine young leader for Canada–a country know for civility and “live and let live.” I don’t think Canada has to fear Mick Jagger stopping by. Will and Kate would probably have a good time though–they could all swap parenting stories and watch the kids play together. Sedate, normal things like that are in store, I’m sure.
The moral here is simple. If you thought Canada was a land where all people did was watch hockey and eat french fries and cheese curds swimming in gravy, you were wrong! While Coyne’s new memoir is raising the stakes a bit on politician’s personal lives, the Canadian national persona of respect and tolerance lives on. It will be interesting to see if Canada’s national press plague the new P.M. with stories about his later father’s baby-mamma or if they will respectfully follow the P.M.s own family from a suitable distance and keep their focus on his policies. I’m betting on the latter scenario, eh? Pass the poutine please and turn up the hockey. Merci…..
For those interested, you can view the new Prime Minister’s maternal family tree is the subject of today’s post at the excellent blog Esoteric Curiosa.