Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau


Trudeau served as Canada’s fifteenth prime minister, governing for 15 years with one short interlude between 1968 and 1984. A charismatic and controversial leader, he is remembered for patriating the Canadian constitution, instituting a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and promoting bilingualism. Some of his policies, such as the National Energy Program, alienated westerners because of their interventionist and centralizing nature. While Trudeau successfully countered Quebec separatists, he did not win the Province’s acceptance of the new constitution.


Trudeau rented an apartment in a house at the far end of Besserer St. (# 593) between 1949 and 1951 while he was working at his first real job (at the Privy Council Office) after several years of studies and travel abroad. He worked in a garret in the East Block and was paid $2880 annually to start. While he later claimed that he was only “a very junior guy” working on “a whole lot of demanding tasks for which nobody else had time,” (Clarkson et al, 1997) he was diligent and his work was appreciated by his superiors. This government experience would prove valuable in later life but at the time Trudeau was frustrated and, after two years, he returned to Montreal. He found Ottawa unwelcoming to francophone professionals, chafed at the forced anonymity of civil service jobs and disagreed with Canada’s participation in the Korean War.


During his stay in Ottawa, he had a serious relationship with Helen Segerstrale, a young, attractive and multilingual employee of the Swedish embassy. Their romance eventually ended, in part because Trudeau insisted she convert to Catholicism. Trudeau remained a practicing Catholic all his life. Indeed, while at the Privy Council Office, he asked for, and received, a formal dispensation from the Ottawa archbishop because his job required him to read books that the Catholic Church had proscribed. It is hard to imagine a similar request today!


Fourteen years later, Trudeau would return to Ottawa as a Member of Parliament and stay at the Château Laurier. In less than three years, he would become Prime Minister.