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When Pierre Trudeau pulled off a surprise wedding

The news came as a surprise and a delight to his colleagues, who thought he was going to B.C. to go skiing.

PM told colleagues he was going skiing, but first he married Margaret Sinclair

The public gets a glimpse of Mrs. Trudeau for the first time. 2:14

The news came as a surprise and a delight to his colleagues, who thought he was going to B.C. to go skiing.  

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had, in truth, gone out west for a different reason: to get married to Margaret Sinclair.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Sinclair dance together at a National Art Gallery Ball in Ottawa, Oct. 31, 1969. The two were later married in a private ceremony in North Vancouver, March 4, 1971. (File/Canadian Press)

"I didn't believe it to begin with," said a smiling External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp, talking to reporters in Ottawa on March 5, 1971. "I was very pleased in the House of Commons today there was such a warm reception to the news."

"This is an essentially private matter and I really admire the prime minister that he can keep his private life quite separate from his official life."

He followed Dief's advice

Former Conservative leader and prime minister John Diefenbaker, who noted he had recently marked 30 years of marriage, took credit for Trudeau's decision to get married.

"One's happiness is greatly increased by having a wife to support and to counsel," he recalled telling the House of Commons. "If [Trudeau] would follow my advice in that connection he would be amazed at the transition that would take place."

Mitchell Sharp, John Diefenbaker and Tommy Douglas share their surprise and delight. 2:27

"It's one of the few occasions when the prime minister has accepted my advice."

NDP Leader Tommy Douglas applauded Trudeau's rapid action, joking he was glad it had required neither a government task force nor a white paper first. 

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau smile as they enter the grounds of 24 Sussex Ave., in Ottawa, after walking home from a visit with the neighbours, Governor General and Mrs. Michener. The Prime Minister and his bride were invited to Government House for dinner Wednesday, March 10, 1971. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

"All of us wish him, and his bride, every happiness, and we hope they will enjoy their journey on the sea of matrimony," he added.

News of the surprise marriage was splashed across newspapers the morning after it happened in Vancouver; according to the Globe and Mail, the press had been notified by Trudeau's executive assistant, Gordon Gibson, after the evening ceremony. 

Two days later, CBC reporter Mike McCourt was among members of the media who caught up with the couple outside a chapel in Whistler, B.C., where they attended a service after a morning of skiing.

"Got a quote for today, sir?" asked someone as Trudeau got into a departing car.

"Oh, fuddle duddle," said the prime minister after a pause, eliciting laughter from the assembled reporters. 

Later, as the Trudeaus were boarding their plane back to Ottawa, a reporter had another question. 

"Are you anxious to get back to Ottawa, sir?" he asked.

"Not particularly, no," Trudeau replied.

'Absolutely delighted' 

Women on the streets of Toronto are delighted by or indifferent to news of Pierre Trudeau's marriage. 2:26

Sinclair was 22 years old to Trudeau's 51. He was considered "the country's most eligible bachelor," according to the Globe and Mail at the time.

She was the daughter of James Sinclair, a former Liberal MP from B.C. and the federal fisheries minister in the 1950s.

The pair had been engaged for six months, according to the Globe and Mail. 

On a Toronto street, a reporter stopped women passing by to ask their impressions of the surprise news.  

"She must be an exceptional gal," said one woman.

'That's his affair'

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau leans over to kiss an unidentified young lady to the seeming surprise of his recent bride, Margaret. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

"She's a little young for him, but that's his affair," said another.

Another woman thought the bride's young age would suit Trudeau's personality. 

"He seems to like having a good time and going out, and I think he needs a younger woman for that," she said.

The last word went to a woman in a fur coat with a sense of humour about the whole thing.

"I was just hoping that he would have called me, but he never did."