Sherbrooke Daily Record

1968 election: Trudeaumania takes over

The early summer of 1968, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau's first election campaign as national Liberal leader was sweeping the country. He would win the June 25th vote and become Canada's 15th prime minister.

Trudeau campaigns Trudeau held his big Sherbrooke rally in the old arena at the exhibition grounds in the East Ward. I wasn't covering it; I had assigned a reporter to do that, but I went to the rally to see for myself what all the fuss was about over this new kind of politician. The place was packed.

The stage was at one end of the arena, but the end seats behind it hadn't been blocked off, and that area was packed, too. With Quebec separatist supporters, as it turned out. Almost as soon as Trudeau rose and began to speak to the audience in front and on either side of him, the separatists behind him began to heckle loudly and continuously.

So Trudeau stopped, and quickly turned around until his back was to me and others in the main audience, and he was facing the crowd of hecklers. He exchanged a few barbs with them, then launched into a fairly long tirade. It was a scolding, entirely in French, and as he railed at them and waved his arms, the heckling subsided and then stopped entirely. When he had finished, he turned around to the main audience again. It had been a bravura performance; we gave him a standing ovation. Then he gave his speech. There wasn't a murmur from the seats behind him.

Later, in a room under the arena seats, Trudeau held an impromptu news conference. I went along to that, too, curious to see him close up. I was surprised at how small he appeared in that crowded little room, surrounded by news people and some of his entourage. He seemed almost shy, too, as he cocked his head and began to answer questions from the national news correspondents that followed him around the country. But then those bright, pale blue eyes of his darted around the room, he gave a crooked half-smile and said he wanted to talk to the local reporters. Where were they? Would they please identify themselves.

And for the next little while, reporters from the Record, and La Tribune and the Sherbrooke radio and TV stations had Trudeau all to themselves. We local journalists thought that was a bravura performance, too.

(Pierre Elliott Trudeau died on Sept. 28, 2000. He was 80)


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Page created Oct. 24, 2000. Last updated Apr. 8, 2006