The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 18, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Pearson buried in corner of beloved Hills

foreword by Louise Schwartz

Canada's 14th prime minister, Lester Bowles Pearson, died just over 39 years ago, on Dec. 27, 1972. Among his many accomplishments in office were the introduction of universal health care and the Canada Pension Plan, and the adoption of the current Canadian flag. As a public servant and diplomat, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. The Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon) ran the following story, posted from Wakefield, on Jan. 2, 1973.

Lester Bowles Pearson, one of Canada's most distinguished sons, was buried Sunday in a $10 simple funeral plot that echoed his feeling for the common man.

The private burial ceremony, which followed a state funeral, was conducted under a steady fall of freezing rain in a quiet corner of a snow-covered country graveyard near this community in the Gatineau hills, about 25 miles north of Ottawa.

The Way We Were
Canadian diplomat Escott Reid with Lester Bowles Pearson before a trip to Ceylon [Sri Lanka], 30 December 1949. At the time Reid was a senior Canadian diplomat and Pearson was foreign minister in the St. Laurent government. In retirement Reid spent much of his time at a farm near Wakefield. Both men are buried at Wakefield's MacLaren Cemetery. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Photo courtesy Duncan Cameron collection PA-121700.

Held as dusk was beginning to gather, the ceremony lasted less than five minutes and was attended only by the former prime minister's widow, Maryon Pearson, and immediate family members and friends, about 35 in all.

The service was private at the request of the family.

The coffin bearing the body of the 75-year-old Nobel Prize winner was draped in the red maple leaf flag that became Canada's national symbol when he was Prime Minister. Eight RCMP pallbearers carried the casket to the grave. Mrs. Pearson was escorted to the gravesite by her son Geoffrey and son-inlaw Walter Hannah of Toronto. Her face composed and serene behind a black veil, she stood quietly before the coffin while the short service was read by Rev. A.B.B. Moore, former moderator of the United Church of Canada.

At the conclusion, the flag was folded in the rain and presented to Mrs. Pearson by one of the pallbearers, who saluted silently and stepped away.

Clutching it under her arm, she gazed back and forth for a moment, along the length of the coffin, then was led away by Mr. Hannah to a waiting car. Members of the family followed slowly behind. The casket was lowered into the ground at 4:10 p.m. EST, immediately after the family had left.

The ceremony was recorded by a small group of National Film Board cameramen, the only film group permitted to witness the ceremony.

Two reporters and two still photographers were also present.

The burial plot, located in the north corner of the small triangular cemetery was purchased by Mr. Pearson for $10 after he and two of his former colleagues chose the inauspicious place about 30 years ago as their final resting place.

Buried just feet away are his colleagues, Hume Wrong, who became the Canadian ambassador to the United States and Norman Robertson who served as under secretary of state for external affairs. Mr. Wrong died in 1954 and Mr. Robertson about four years ago.

A retired member of the Parliamentary press gallery who knew Mr. Pearson well, said the three men were impressed by the beauty of the simple cemetery, the gravesite of more than 100 settlers of the Wakefield area.

On any other day, it would have been a striking setting. But it was cold and drab in the rain, dark skies and slush that marred the burial service Sunday.

Once owned by a Maclaren family, whose descendants still live in Wakefield, the cemetery is located up a steep hill off a little-travelled sideroad that runs past a grist mill still in use.

The road, covered by two feet of snow when Mr. Pearson died late Wednesday, was plowed and sanded repeatedly by work crews before the funeral cortege arrived Sunday.

The graveyard looks out on the winding expanse of the Gatineau River and is ringed by rolling hills and fields.

The Gatineau area is one of the parts of Canada best loved by the former Prime Minister.

He vacationed in there often, most frequently when he was in office.

The Harrington Lake summer home reserved for the Prime Minister is located about ten miles away.

Mr. Pearson's grave was arced by about two dozen wreaths.

They included floral tributes from the Queen, the House of Commons, the Senate the Royal Canadian Legion, the government of Yugoslavia, and the family.

RCMP and Quebec provincial police officers kept curious members of the public from entering the road leading to the burial spot.

Several hundred people, some of them children, stood in clumps along the route from Ottawa, many waving flags.

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