Stories About Storytellers: Pierre Trudeau
[Editor’s note: This is the fourth excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others. They will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on Prime Minister, author, and haunting icon, Pierre Trudeau.]
Shortly after the news of Pierre Trudeau’s death was broadcast, I was sitting in the back of a cab in downtown Toronto. The cab driver and I shared our regrets about the news. The driver was a Greek who came to Canada as an adult in 1967, yet his heavily accented English allowed him to summarize elegantly how he felt: “I grew with him.”
Late in his life, I was fortunate enough to get to know Pierre Trudeau, the author. At McClelland & Stewart we paid a great deal of money to publish his Memoirs, based on the 1993 cbc tv series that began each episode with him, clad in an elegant buckskin jacket, paddling a canoe on a misty lake. It was a brilliant image, and the series drew millions of viewers. When the manuscript came in, however, bearing the company’s hopes for a successful year, there were obvious problems with it. Such major problems, in fact, that after I had spent a sleepless night our chairman, Avie Bennett, and I decided that it had to be reworked: in rough terms, made chronological rather than thematic. We flew to Montreal, and Avie, who knew Trudeau, introduced me to him for the first time. Given a choice, I would have made our first meeting an easy, congratulatory one, but c’est la vie.