Trudeau in 2015
|Spouse of the Prime Minister of Canada|
March 4, 1971 – May 27, 1977 (separated)
|Preceded by||Maryon Pearson|
|Succeeded by||Maureen McTeer|
|Born||Margaret Joan Sinclair
September 10, 1948
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
|Spouse(s)||Pierre Trudeau (1971–1984)
Fried Kemper (1984–1999)
|Known for||Former spouse of the Prime Minister of Canada, mother of the Prime Minister of Canada|
Margaret Joan Trudeau (née Sinclair, born September 10, 1948), is a Canadian author, actress, photographer, former television talk show hostess, and social advocate for people with bipolar disorder. She is the former wife of Pierre Trudeau, 15th Prime Minister of Canada; and is the mother of Justin Trudeau, 23rd Prime Minister of Canada, and his brothers Alexandre and Michel. In 2013, Trudeau was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Western Ontario in recognition of her work to combat mental illness.
She was born in Vancouver, daughter of Scottish-born James "Jimmy" Sinclair, a former Liberal member of the Parliament of Canada and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and Doris Kathleen (Bernard) Sinclair. Her grandmother, Rose Edith (Ivens) Bernard, with whom Trudeau had an especially close relationship, lived in Roberts Creek, British Columbia in later life and was originally from Virden, Manitoba. Her grandfather Thomas Kirkpatrick Bernard was born in Makassar and immigrated in 1906 at age 15 with his family to Penticton, British Columbia eventually working as a payroll clerk for Canadian Pacific Railway. The Bernards were the descendants of colonists in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, including Francis James Bernard, a London-born Anglo-Irishman whose own great-grandfather, Arthur Bernard, was a member of the Irish House of Commons for Bandonbridge and brother of Francis Bernard, Solicitor-General for Ireland and ancestor of the Earls of Bandon. Francis James Bernard was the founder of the first Singapore Police Force in 1819, The Singapore Chronicle, the first newspaper in Singapore, was established with Bernard as owner, publisher and editor in 1824 and he opened up Katong, now a densely populated residential enclave, by being the first to cultivate a coconut estate there in 1823. Bernard had married in 1818 Margaret Trudeau's 3rd great-grandmother Esther Farquhar, eldest daughter of Scotsman William Farquhar, a colonial leader in the founding of modern Singapore, by Farquhar's first wife, Antoinette "Nonio" Clement, daughter of a French father and an ethnic Malaccan mother. Another of her 3rd-great grandmothers Cornelia Louisa Intveld, married in 1822 to Royal Navy officer and merchant William Purvis from Dalgety Bay, Scotland, was a noted fine soprano and beauty of her era. Upon glimpsing her across the auditorium at the opera in London, British King William IV sent his equerry to invite her to his box. When she refused, the King sent the equerry back just to ask her name. Intveld was born in Padang where her father, who came from humble beginnings in Hellevoetsluis, South Holland, rose up through the Dutch East India Company to become the Dutch Resident of Padang. Her maternal grandmother was an Ono Niha ranee (a term that covered every rank from chieftain's daughter to princess) who married a prominent Dutch colonial official and merchant. Margaret Trudeau's first cousin, three times removed, was acclaimed British harpsichordist Violet Gordon-Woodhouse. Trudeau explored her mother's family's roots in Singapore during an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?.
Her family moved to a large house in Rockcliffe Park, Ontario in 1952 when her father was appointed to the Cabinet and she attended Rockcliffe Park Public School although they returned to North Vancouver after he lost his re-election bid in 1958. She attended Hamilton Junior Secondary School and Delbrook Senior Secondary School in North Vancouver. Trudeau graduated in 1969 from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.
Marriage to Pierre Trudeau
As an 18-year-old vacationing in Tahiti with her family, she met Pierre Trudeau, who was then Minister of Justice. Sinclair did not recognize him, and she in fact thought little of their encounter, but Trudeau was captivated by the carefree "flower child", thirty years younger than he, and began to pursue her.
Pierre Trudeau was still a bachelor when he became Prime Minister in 1968. After keeping their romance private, Canada was shocked when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation led its morning radio broadcast about Prime Minister Trudeau honeymooning at Alta Lake, British Columbia at the foot of Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort the day after a surprise wedding in North Vancouver, British Columbia on March 4, 1971. Although she had previously accompanied Pierre Trudeau in public a year before to ice skate and dance at an event at Rideau Hall, official residence of Canada's Governor General, it was a complete secret except to immediate family members and close friends that she was in a romantic relationship and then in a six-month engagement to the Prime Minister.
As Pierre Trudeau was a Catholic, she converted to Roman Catholicism for their marriage. She would in later life study Buddhism although she now considers herself an Anglican. Asked about her role in a marriage to the prime minister, Trudeau said, "I want to be more than a rose in my husband's lapel."
After Pierre Trudeau's government's near defeat in 1972 where she herself was very uninvolved in the campaign, she decided to become much more active for the 1974 federal election. At a rally in Vancouver, she told a crowd of 2,000 that her husband had taught her "a lot about loving." The remark was wildly mocked and dismissed in public during the campaign by members of the press gallery as well as by her husband's main political rivals Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader Robert Stanfield and New Democratic Party leader David Lewis. Liberal party organizers considered her a top campaign asset and sent her off alone to help local candidates in hotly contested ridings while critics noted that while the wives of Stanfield and Lewis were on the campaign trail, they rarely spoke and stood behind their husbands at events. Political observers also found Pierre Trudeau noticeably more relaxed at events when Margaret came along. Initially she brought her 6-month-old son Sasha on the trail with her and one veteran reporter said, "It's the first campaign plane I've ever been on where the first thing off is a crib and a diaper bag." Later she decided to leave her sons with her parents in North Vancouver while she continued campaigning. Asked at the time if she thought her campaigning was helping Pierre Trudeau pick up votes, she replied, "I won't know until July 8th. But 52 per cent of the voters in this country are women, and an awful lot of them are young." Her husband's party returned to a majority government.
Trudeau had difficulty adjusting to her new position. "From the day I became Mrs. Pierre Elliott Trudeau," she writes in her memoirs, "a glass panel was gently lowered into place around me, like a patient in a mental hospital who is no longer considered able to make decisions and who cannot be exposed to a harsh light." The couple had three children: Justin (born December 25, 1971), Alexandre (Sacha) (born December 25, 1973), and Michel (October 2, 1975 – November 13, 1998).
Though the couple initially appeared to have a very close and loving relationship, the marriage soon began to fall apart. Trudeau resented her husband's constant work-related absences and was forced to raise her three young sons largely by herself. Beyond the normal extensive publicity that her high-profile position brought, in a few instances she made her own headlines. Trudeau smuggled drugs in the prime minister's luggage, made scantily clad appearances at Studio 54, and tore apart a quilt work made by Canadian conceptual artist Joyce Wieland that hung on the wall in the prime minister's official residence in Ottawa because it celebrated "reason over passion".
Over time, the marriage disintegrated to the point that, as recounted in her book, Trudeau had an affair with US Senator Ted Kennedy. She was also associated with members of the Rolling Stones, including Ronnie Wood and, according to Keith Richards's autobiography, Life, Mick Jagger.
Suffering from stress and bouts of bipolar depression, she separated from her husband in 1977 and became a much-talked-about jet-setter. She gave many "tell-all" interviews to Canadian and American magazines and appeared in two motion pictures. Pierre Trudeau won custody of the children and did not pay any spousal support. Trudeau had a difficult time earning a living after her marriage. She wrote the book Beyond Reason about her marriage.
On the eve of the 1979 election, in which Trudeau's party lost the majority of seats in the House of Commons, Trudeau was dancing at Studio 54 nightclub in New York City. A photo of her there was featured on many front pages across Canada.
Trudeau filed for a no-fault divorce on November 16, 1983 which was finalized on April 2, 1984, and on April 18, 1984, with her three sons attending, she married in a civil ceremony Ottawa real-estate developer Fried Kemper, with whom she had two children: son Kyle (born 1984); and daughter Alicia (born 1988).
In November 1998, the Trudeaus' youngest son, Michel, an avid outdoorsman, was killed when an avalanche swept him to the bottom of British Columbia's Kokanee Lake. The loss of her son was devastating for Trudeau, and she suffered another major depressive episode that led to her second divorce.
When Pierre Trudeau died in 2000, she was at his bedside with their surviving sons, Justin and Alexandre. Speaking in 2010 about her marriage to Trudeau she said: "Just because our marriage ended didn’t mean the love stopped."
On October 19, 2015, her eldest son, Justin Trudeau, led the Liberal Party to a majority government, becoming the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. During the campaign, she was involved, but avoided campaigning in public as the Harper campaign's main attack line against Justin was "Just Not Ready" and feared they would suggest her son was "so unready he needs his mummy."
Work, advocacy and writing
Today, Trudeau is the honorary president of WaterAid Canada, an Ottawa-based organization dedicated to helping the poorest communities in developing countries build sustainable water supply and sanitation services.
On May 5, 2006, Trudeau announced that she had bipolar disorder. Since then, she has advocated for reducing the social stigma of mental illness—bipolar disorder in particular—with speaking engagements across North America. She is an honorary patron of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
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- ——— (2015), The Time of My Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-1-443-43183-5.
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