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Trudeau toughens up

He slid down banisters, dated movie stars and wore a red rose in his lapel. Pierre Elliott Trudeau is arguably the most charismatic prime minister in Canada's history. But he was more than just charisma – Trudeau helped shape Canada with his vision of a unified, bilingual, multicultural "just society." Throughout his 16 years as prime minister, he faced some heavy criticism. But when Trudeau died on Sept. 28, 2000, the nation mourned the man who, in the words of one biographer, "haunts us still."

Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau was born on Oct. 18, 1919, in Montreal. He was one of four children born to a francophone father and an anglophone mother. His father, Charles-Émile Trudeau, was a lawyer who later became a millionaire businessman. His mother, Grace Elliott, was the daughter of a prominent Scottish entrepreneur. His parents' marriage was a prime example of opposites attracting, as described in this TV footage.

Trudeau's father was gregarious, boisterous and extravagant while his mother was quiet, contemplative and refined. Charles-Émile was the ambitious son of a Quebec farmer. Grace came from Montreal's anglophone establishment. As a child Trudeau was more like his mother -- sensitive and frail. But he quickly toughened up under his father's influence. As seen in these home videos, Trudeau eagerly hams it up for the camera. 
• Both of Pierre Trudeau's parents were bilingual. The family spoke both languages at home, although they tended to prefer speaking English, according to the 1990 book Trudeau and Our Times, Vol. 1 by Stephen Clarkson and Christina McCall.

• Both parents were also Roman Catholic. His mother's father was a Scottish Protestant, but her mother had been French Canadian Roman Catholic. So Grace was baptized Catholic while her brothers were baptized Protestant – a not uncommon practice in "mixed marriages" at the time.

• Charles-Émile Trudeau made his fortune by establishing the Automobile Owner's Association. He came up with the idea of charging members a nominal fee for discounts on gasoline, towing and repair costs.

• Pierre Trudeau had one sister, Suzette, born in 1918 and a younger brother Charles Elliott born in 1922. Another brother, born in 1916, died in infancy.

• Trudeau grew up on Rue Durocher in Montreal. It was an ethnically mixed neighbourhood made up of Irish Catholics, Jews and French Canadians.

• When Trudeau turned 12, his family moved into a new house on McCulloch Street in the well-to-do neighbourhood of Outremont. That same year, Trudeau enrolled at the Jesuit-run Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. It was also around this time that his father sold his business to Imperial Oil for $1 million.

• Charles-Émile Trudeau was an ardent Conservative and often cursed the Liberal machine. Trudeau was just 15 when his father died suddenly from pneumonia at age 47. His father's death had instilled a deep sense of responsibility in Trudeau towards his family.

• After graduating from Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in 1940, Trudeau entered law school at Université de Montréal. Following his graduation in 1943, he enrolled at Harvard and received his masters in political economy.

• Upon graduation from Harvard, Trudeau moved to Paris to study at the École libre des sciences politiques for a year. He then studied for a year at the London School of Economics.

• After his studies, Trudeau backpacked through Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia from 1948 to 1949. He was in China as the Communist Party took over.

• In Young Trudeau: 1919-1944, Son of Quebec, Father of Canada, authors Max and Monique Namni write that Pierre Trudeau once joined a secret revolutionary group plotting to form an independent Quebec. The authors had access to Trudeau's personal papers and had discussions with him before his death in 2000. According to the book, Trudeau kept his early ideas a secret, even from his children and friends.

Medium: Television
Program: The Passionate Eye
Broadcast Date: Jan. 9, 1994
Guest(s): Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Duration: 4:14
Trudeau Memoirs co-produced with Les Productions La Fête.

Last updated: January 17, 2012

Page consulted on March 28, 2013

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