Former prime minister Brian Mulroney commemorated at state funeral

As Canada's 18th prime minister, Mulroney rallied countries against apartheid

Prominent Canadians, political leaders, and family members remembered former prime minister and Progressive Conservative titan Brian Mulroney as an ambitious and compassionate nation-builder at his state funeral on Saturday.

Taking place at the iconic and ornate Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, the ceremony celebrating his life and legacy began at 11 a.m. EDT and lasted just over two hours.

Saturday’s commemoration started with the tolling of the cathedral’s carillon bells, 84 times, representing Mulroney’s age at the time of his death.

The funeral procession — including a Royal Canadian Mounted Police escort, a guard of honour, military bands, and honourary pallbearers — then made the snowy kilometre-long journey from Saint-Patrick’s Basilica to the cathedral.

Following behind the cortege leading Mulroney’s insignia-adorned casket into the grand space, were his wife Mila, their four children Caroline, Ben, Mark and Nicholas, and his grandchildren. 

Saturday’s events followed a week of commemorations both in that city and in the nation’s capital, providing Canadians an opportunity to reflect on his contributions and offer their condolences.

Federal party leaders and MPs paid tribute to Mulroney’s political legacy on Monday in the House of Commons, regaling his family seated in the viewing gallery, with their memories.

Then, over Tuesday and Wednesday, approximately 2,000 members of the public and numerous other dignitaries attended Mulroney’s lying in state where his casket was placed on a pedestal and draped in the Canadian flag, while his family — pillars of strength amid their own grief — stood for hours accepting condolences.

Canada’s 18th prime minister 

Mulroney died surrounded by family in February, at age 84. 

Over his impressive — yet at times divisive — political career, Mulroney left an unmistakable mark on the country as he pressed forward on a series of what he later described as “big ticket items.”

Born in 1939 to a working class family in Baie-Comeau, Que., he worked behind the scenes in conservative politics for years before clinching the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1983. Mulroney went on to run a commanding 1984 federal campaign, winning a majority with the largest number of seats in Canadian history.

As Canada’s 18th prime minister, Mulroney embarked on an at-times stormy prime ministership that in nine years both strengthened and tested the country.

He took Canada on a forced march through two major efforts to bring Quebec into the constitutional fold, secured the Acid Rain Accord among numerous other environmental initiatives, and introduced the reviled Goods and Services Tax (GST).

On the international stage, Mulroney gave Canada a new sense of respect and presence. He rallied countries against apartheid and built stronger trade ties with the United States.

Though, as a weary country drifted into a recession, Mulroney’s polling numbers plummeted to a historic low, and in 1993 he declared in a Centre Block meeting room that the time had come “for me to step aside,” after doing his “very best” for his country, handing the reins over to Kim Campbell a few months later.

After navigating some post-politics reputational turmoil, Mulroney went on to cement himself as a trusted adviser to his political successors both Conservative and Liberal, leading prominent Canadians and elected officials of all stripes to remember him as a formidable leader, who never hesitated to pick up the phone.

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