It seemed, in hindsight, to be less of a political rally, such as go on during an election campaign, and more of a small-town welcome to a Prime Minister. It might well have been both.
On the lawn in front of a specially-built stage across from the band-shell, between beautiful Stewart Park and the stately old Town Hall of Perth, Ontario, my grandmother and I unfolded lawn-chairs and watched as final preparations were made for the arrival of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his wife Margaret, whom he had just married the previous March.
This was the summer of 1971. My grandmother was a Conservative voter, though never a party member as far as I know. “My father always voted Conservative,” seemed to be her reasoning.
Having retired as a school teacher only a few years earlier, my grandmother took pride in her town, kept up on civic and church affairs, and rarely let a good lesson slip past her grandchildren.
Still a few months shy of turning 12 I had experienced a bit of a political baptism by fire with my family. It had been less than a year since the October Crisis and our home was not in Perth but rather in Quebec. Mom and Dad had settled in Valleyfield in about 1957, towards the end of the Duplessis era, when Dad’s specialty textile plant moved from Perth to be closer to its Montreal owners.
By 1970, with four children, Quebec was home but I can only imagine how the events of that October must have shaken Mom and Dad. What I remember was a lot of army vehicles around town and soldiers with heavy artillery, at buildings even remotely connected to the provincial and federal governments, and especially at bridges which crossed both the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. This was considered to be a plausible escape route by FLQ members to quiet U.S. border crossings or to Ontario.
All of this seemed like a lifetime ago on this warm evening. I don’t remember how the guests of honour arrived. I don’t remember who else was there but can say with near certainty that prominent Perth families such as the Crains would have been among them, the local MP, the perennial Member of Provincial Parliament Doug Wiseman, as well as local judge John Matheson who made a name for himself steering the Maple Leaf flag through Lester B. Pearson’s Parliament and to whom I am distantly related through MacDonalds and McIntoshes. (He’d occasionally walk across from the court house to my grandmother’s veranda for a visit during those years.)
Words of welcome to the Trudeaus from everyone nearly completed, it came time for presentation of gifts. The only one that I remember, to this day, was a large package of disposable diapers. There seemed to be a mixed reaction, whether Justin Trudeau’s expected arrival the next Christmas had not been made public yet or perhaps the proud people of Perth thought it was a gift in poor taste.
I think my grandmother might have voted Liberal a couple of times before she died, and that’s how my Dad always voted, Mom will do so until her last ballot is cast. My first vote was Liberal, when Joe Clark’s government was defeated in 1979, but I went on to be a New Democrat for many years, a Green for a few more, and now I think I’m circling back…
Rest assured I’ll never vote Conservative.