Trudeaumania fades at Pierre Trudeau's tomb
In life, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau commanded the attention of Canadians with his flamboyance, imagination and, at times, arrogance. But a decade after his death, the man who ignited Trudeaumania rests in relative obscurity.
Trudeau is buried in St-Rémi, about 50 kilometres south of Montreal, but the St-Rémi-de-Napierville Cemetery offers few clues that one of Canada's most historic figures is entombed there, just a few metres from a busy road in rural Quebec.
Unlike the gravesites of other prime ministers, there's no flagpole outside the Trudeau family mausoleum and no plaque recalling details of his life.
His ex-wife, Margaret, insists that's how Trudeau, who died 10 years ago Tuesday, wanted it.
"He just wants to be quiet with his family there, and that's why it's off the beaten path," she said.
"He loved strong emotion, but he didn't like people to be sentimental when really they didn't know him."
Mausoleum off the beaten path
So far, locals say, Trudeau has gotten his wish. Except for a tour bus or two each year, people rarely stop at his tomb, St-Rémi's mayor says.
"There were a lot visits around the time of his death, but for several years, it's been quiet," said Michel Lavoie.
Older residents remember Trudeau's ancestors, who were from the region. But few knew the late prime minister, who was born and raised in Montreal.
"People don't talk about him much," Lavoie said. "The city of St-Rémi is proud to have the Trudeau family in our region … He's one of the best-known people, so it's important for us. But the Trudeau family has the final say. They are the ones who decided that it remain a sober site."
The limestone Trudeau vault holds 13 members of the family, including Pierre Elliott's parents and grandparents. It is the tallest monument in the cemetery.
One name missing from the crypt is that of Trudeau's youngest son, Michel, who died in 1998 when an avalanche swept him into an icy, B.C. lake. His body was never found.
Tomb was under police protection
The cemetery hasn't always been peaceful since the arrival of Trudeau's remains. The former prime minister evoked passions and incited controversy, particularly as a passionate opponent of Quebec separatism.
In the weeks after his burial, police received threats that his grave would be desecrated, prompting the Mounties to set up 24-hour surveillance at the tomb. Eventually, the threats ceased and so did the police patrols.
Then, in April 2008, vandals spray-painted "FLQ" and the French words for "traitor" and "bastard" on the walls of the crypt. The graffiti has since been removed.
If it hadn't been for the vandalism, some citizens of St-Rémi still might not know about Trudeau's tomb.
"That's the only time I've heard people talk about it," said Sophie Vallerand, who lives near the cemetery.
"They also spoke about it on television, saying that he was buried here. If not, I don't think people would know about it."
In another twist of irony, the cemetery sits in a riding represented by the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois.
A federal government program created in 1999 has left the burial sites of former prime ministers under the responsibility of Parks Canada.
To commemorate their lives and careers, the department has installed flagpoles and information panels at many of the graves, all with the blessing of their families.