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Canada Mourns

Peter Mansbridge
CBC News

| | T h u r s d a y
Sept. 28, 2000

They were three words we had been expecting for a couple of weeks, but when I heard them I was still shocked. "Trudeau is dead." Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada's 15th prime minister was dead at age 80. We had known he had been ill for some time, but only after his death was it made official that he'd been suffering from prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease.

Things flew into high gear in our news room when we got the first indication that the end may well have come. Director Fred Parker readied the studio, producer Mark Bulgutch collected the tapes we would need, and I worked on confirming the rumour. It took a half dozen calls and about 45 minutes before I had the story double confirmed. We went to air breaking the story to Canadians.

We were ready with a look back at Trudeau's personal and political life from Jason Moscovitz. CBC Radio soon followed and went to air with a report from Bernard St. Laurent.

We stayed on the air for most of that Thursday night. We heard from former prime ministers Joe Clark and John Turner. Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent also gave his memories of Trudeau. Radio's World at Six spoke with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

As our Web site took the news to the wired world on the Internet, editors posted an essay called One of Our Best and Brightest and they assembled a Photogallery highlighting images from Trudeau's three decades in the limelight. They also put together a timeline of significant events in Trudeau's life and published the text of the numerous tributes from high-profile Canadians.

Within a few hours, we had a report on the reaction from people across the land from Kelly Crowe. Lynne Robson looked specifically at the reaction in Quebec, and Terry Milewski gauged the response in the west. Susan Bonner told us about events that night on Parliament Hill, and Sasa Petricic canvassed members of Parliament for their thoughts. Our Washington correspondent, David Halton, summarized international reaction.

It soon became apparent that thousands of Canadians wanted to share in the grieving. And many did it online. Our Web site was flooded with e-mails. Thousands of people also shared their feelings through our message boards.

Throughout the evening we aired excerpts from many of Pierre Trudeau's major speeches, including lengthy portions of his farewell speech to the Liberal Party in 1984. And from our archives we found his final formal television interview. It came from 1996, when he sat down to talk with the CBC's Hana Gartner.

As I left the studio that night I was convinced that a wave of national mourning was about to sweep over the country. I also reflected on what the news had meant to me. Like so many of my colleagues, a good part of my professional life has been spent covering the Trudeau story over the past three decades. He was a dynamic figure who provoked a range of reaction and because of that he was always a good story and a challenge to cover. Now he was gone.

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