Portrait of a broken Trudeau family
For this weekly series looking back over their exceptionally long careers, our Montreal Gazette photographers were asked to pick out their favourites — and to tell us about how they got made and what they mean to them.
The faces of the people in this photo, taken on Nov. 20, 1998, are familiar to most Canadians: Former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau on the far left; his firstborn son Justin, who would become prime minister in 2015, on the far right; Justin's mother, Margaret Trudeau, beside him and, to the left of her, Justin's brother Sacha, her second son.
To longtime Gazette photographer John Mahoney, who took the photo, the image is a portrait of a broken family.
The four are descending the stairs of St-viateur d'outremont Church following a memorial service for Michel Trudeau, Pierre and Margaret's youngest child and Justin and Sacha's brother. He had died a week earlier in an avalanche while backcountry skiing with friends in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in British Columbia, where he was living and working at a mountain resort. He was 23.
The image depicts four grief-stricken people — but, to Mahoney, it is all about Margaret Trudeau. She looks striking, for one, with the large crucifix she is wearing and her black pillbox hat and long black veil, and she is being supported — held up, probably — by her surviving children.
“She has her arms around both her sons and they have got theirs around her,” he said.
Pierre Trudeau looks to be off to the side, somehow remote from the rest. Pierre and Margaret Trudeau divorced in 1984, during his final months as prime minister.
Mahoney said he didn't completely grasp the power of the photo until he was editing what he had shot. “I was just following them down the stairs of the church and trying to frame them properly. It was more about capturing the entire scene,” he recalled.
“It's in the editing process, more than when you are shooting, that you start to notice the expressions on the faces of your subjects.”