New Brunswick

LeBlanc's state funeral draws thousands

Former governor general Roméo LeBlanc was remembered during his state funeral Friday in Memramcook, N.B., as a devoted journalist and politician who worked to improve the lot of the less fortunate.

Former governor general honoured for his 'devotion, humility and dignity'

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien and Aline Chrétien pay their respects to former governor general Roméo LeBlanc on Friday morning. ((CBC))
Former governor general Roméo LeBlanc was remembered during his state funeral Friday in Memramcook, N.B., as a devoted journalist and politician who worked to improve the lot of the less fortunate.

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, offered a prayer at the start around 10 a.m. AT of the traditional Catholic funeral service at Saint-Thomas of Memramcook Church. Thousands of dignitaries and members of the public gathered at the tiny farming village's church where LeBlanc was baptized.

In a eulogy, Dominic LeBlanc, who holds the federal seat that his father once represented, said that while many in the country were remembering the life of a great politician, he and his sister were struggling with the loss of their father.

"The country has lost a devoted Canadian who did his best to serve with humility and compassion. Many of you have lost a dear friend and my sister and I have lost our father,' LeBlanc said.

"Nous t'aimerons beaucoup, Papa."

LeBlanc said his father went to Ottawa as an MP in the early 1970s with others who were hoping to heal the divisions created by fights over language, religion, culture and wealth.

"They devoted their lives to bringing us together, to reminding us of the values formed by this great land, that our first peoples shared with our earliest settlers," he said.

"My father firmly believed that Canada's greatest and most abundant resource lay not under the sole of our feet nor in or under the sea, but in the hearts and the minds of Canadians. He saw in ordinary men and women like him and his friends, the essential decency and goodness upon which our society is formed."

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien remembered the man he appointed governor general as someone who was "always calm, informed, deliberate and smiling.

"A great gentlemen of Acadie has left us," Chrétien said.

"The announcement of the death of our friend Roméo LeBlanc was received throughout this country as a major event, because this gentleman represented what there is as best in our country, and the proof that everything is possible here."

LeBlanc believed politics matter

LeBlanc was governor general from 1995 to 1999. Before that, he was a journalist with Radio-Canada, press secretary to former prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, a Liberal cabinet minister and a senator.

Canada's first Acadian governor general was also remembered by his longtime friend and Acadian historian, Naomi Griffiths.

LeBlanc and Griffiths were introduced in 1954, and they often met while they were students in Paris.

Griffiths said that when LeBlanc entered public life, he never gave up the belief that politics matter in the lives of Canadians.

"As an Acadian, he was convinced that Canadian institutions and values allowed individuals to preserve differing and distinctive cultural heritages as part of a vibrant and united nation," Griffiths said.

"He was someone willing to accept that differences of culture, of religious belief can be accommodated within one society that justice and equality are goals worth striving for."

Earlier, the procession made its way up the village's main street left the Memramcook Institute, where LeBlanc was lying in state on Thursday. The honorary pallbearers included New Brunswick businessman J.K. Irving, Quebec MP Justin Trudeau, Chrétien and former Liberal cabinet minister Marc Lalonde.

Fisheries officers honour LeBlanc

About 3,000 people were expected at the funeral of the former governor general, who will be buried in the southeastern New Brunswick village of 4,638.

Roméo LeBlanc, the former governor general, is shown beside his official portrait during an unveiling ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Feb. 20, 2003. LeBlanc was the 25th representative of the Queen in Canada, from 1995-99. (Jim Young/Reuters)
LeBlanc, the first Acadian appointed as governor general, died at his home in Grande Digue, N.B., on June 23 after a lengthy illness. He was 81.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chrétien, who appointed LeBlanc governor general in 1994, were among the dignitaries who arrived early on Friday to pay their respects at the Memramcook Institute, a historical building in the heart of the village.

Among those in the honour guard were many fisheries officers, also attending to remember LeBlanc.

LeBlanc was Canada's longest-serving fisheries minister and is remembered for speaking out for independent fishermen.

LeBlanc has been remembered since his death last week as an ordinary man from Memramcook who rose to become governor general, but never forgot his roots.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean reflected that sentiment when she remembered LeBlanc on Thursday.

"He was a man known for his simplicity, his serenity and his generosity," Jean said.