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Members of the public brave snowfall, frigid temperatures to honour Brian Mulroney

MONTREAL – The frigid, snow-covered streets of Old Montreal were mostly empty ahead of former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s funeral, save for a handful of determined mourners from the general public who gathered at the edge of the security barrier surrounding Notre-Dame Basilica.

Members of the public weren’t allowed in the public square in front of the church, leaving fans of Mulroney to loiter on sidewalks along the periphery in hopes of catching a glimpse of the funeral procession.

Seventy-four-year-old Colleen Hawley said she travelled all the way from Amherst, N.S., to say goodbye to her favourite prime minister.

“I always admired him and thought he brought a lot of common sense to the table and really had Canada’s best interest in everything he did,” she said from the street to the west of the basilica, her sneakers damp from the accumulating snow.

Initially the sole mourner on the windswept roadway, Hawley said she was determined to wait outside until Mulroney’s funeral procession passed.

“I feel so so sorry that he has departed us,” she said.

A small group of people eventually formed around her. Among them were Pauline and Brenda Woodall, sisters from Ontario who came to Montreal for the World Figure Skating Championships this weekend and were inspired to stop by the funeral.

“We thought, this is a moment in history and he was quite the politician and statesman, so we thought we would pay our respects,” said Pauline Woodall, 66.

“He was a great man, when you think of everything that he put in for our country,” added 60-year-old Brenda. “He loved our country.”

A block away, 65-year-old Michel Morin took shelter from the snow inside a doorway facing the basilica. He said he travelled from Quebec City early Saturday morning in hopes of watching the funeral ceremony, but was dismayed he couldn’t approach the event. Tents and a stage for members of the media largely blocked Morin’s view of the church.

“I thought it was important to come here to say a last goodbye,” Morin said, affectionately referring to Mulroney, a fellow Quebecer, as the “little guy from our home.”

Nearby, 61-year-old Kathleen Girard paced the street trying to get a glimpse of some of the funeral’s high-profile attendees, which included numerous past political leaders, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and actor Ryan Reynolds. She came to Montreal from the town of Plessisville, southwest of Quebec City, for an unrelated event but said she respected what she described as Mulroney’s down-to-earth personality and selflessness.

“In all the interviews with people who knew him, they say he was very human man, very close to the people,” Girard said. “When he made decisions, he didn’t do so for himself, for his prestige, he made them for the community.”

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