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Brian Mulroney’s casket arrives at Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica for state funeral

MONTREAL — An RCMP honour guard carried the flag-draped casket of Canada’s 18th prime minister into Notre-Dame Basilica on Saturday as the state funeral for Brian Mulroney got underway in Montreal.  

Music filled the church as the casket was carried inside, followed by members of the Muroney family, including his wife and four children, and a group of honorary pallbearers made up of his closest friends. 

Earlier, the church’s bells tolled 84 times, signalling the beginning of a funeral procession for the former prime minister — one resounding chime for each year of his life.

The hearse left St. Patrick’s Basilica under a steady curtain of falling snow for the kilometre-long journey, accompanied by an RCMP mounted escort and pallbearers, a Canadian Armed Forces honour guard and the Royal Canadian Air Force band. 

The ceremony got underway in the presence of a diverse cross-section of Canadian society, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Early Saturday, police cars sat in the snow blocking off the streets, their lights flashing, as officers directed onlookers away from the series of metal barricades and media tents that occupied the square in front of the Gothic-style church.

By 9:30 a.m. the sanctuary was already flled with the buzz of crowd noise as several hundred early arrivals mingled in the aisles, including former cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Peter Van Loan, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Trudeau, Gretzky, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Mulroney’s daughter Caroline, who is an Ontario cabinet minister, were to deliver eulogies at the religious ceremony led by Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine.

The funeral was also bringing together much of Canada’s political class, past and present. In addition to Trudeau, the guest list included four former prime ministers — Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark and Stephen Harper, as well as 12 current provincial premiers or territorial leaders, the leaders of all the major federal opposition parties, and several foreign ambassadors.

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was also on the list, as was former British prime minister John Major, actor Ryan Reynolds and members of prominent business families such as Molson, Irving and Bronson.

The funeral follows four days of public tributes in Montreal and Ottawa during which political dignitaries and members of the public filed past Mulroney’s casket and paid their respects to his wife and four children.

Mulroney’s sons said they wanted the funeral to be a chance to celebrate their father’s life with a “party” that includes music, laughter and funny stories.

“He loved a good party, so that’s a promise from the family,” his son Nicolas Mulroney told The Canadian Press on Thursday. “It’ll be a funeral on paper, but it will be a party to many.”

Ben Mulroney, for his part, said the mood would be lightened by the presence of his father’s 16 grandchildren, some of whom might be running around.

“I hope there’s some funny moments because I know that there are going to be some overwhelming moments for me,” he said. “And I find that that humour about him allows me to turn off the tears.”

Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at age 84, was prime minister for nine years between 1984 and 1993 and led the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

His legacy includes the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico during his time as prime minister, his participation in the fight against South African apartheid, the 1991 acid rain accord and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.

There will be a 19-gun salute in Montreal’s Old Port following the ceremony. The family will hold a private burial in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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