History Spotlight: Pierre and Margaret Trudeau

As paparazzi culture rose in the '70s, Pierre and Margaret Trudeau became Canada's "royal couple."

Text by Sarah Reilly

Posted May 15, 2011
Watch Margaret Trudeau’s interview with Toronto Star senior writer, Susan Delacourt. November 10, 2010 at Toronto Reference Library. This clip is part 1 of 8, and an interview about Margaret’s latest book Changing My Mind. The next seven clips should pop up in succession. To get past the introduction, move cursor to 4 minute, 10 second mark.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau was a forty-eight-year-old bachelor when he became the Prime Minister of Canada in 1968. A charismatic, youthful Liberal, Trudeau quickly captured the attention of Canadians.

As women, young and old, fell in love with him and their brothers and husbands came to idolize him, their infatuation with Trudeau became known as Trudeaumania. Pierre Trudeau was a rock star of Canadian politics. In 1971, the hearts of many Canadian women shattered upon the announcement that Trudeau had married twenty-two-year-old ‘flower child’, Margaret Sinclair.

The couple met in 1967 while Trudeau and Sinclair were vacationing separately in Tahiti. Sinclair told her mother she was not interested in Trudeau after their first meeting, yet less than a year later Trudeau’s persistence and charm won out and the two began dating. The couple appeared happy and in love, and on March 4, 1971, Sinclair and Trudeau were secretly married.

During the early stages of their thirteen-year marriage, Trudeau and Sinclair had three children, all boys. The eldest, Justin, was born on December 25, 1971. Two years later, to the day, Justin was followed by Alexander (Sasha). On October 2, 1975, Sinclair gave birth to the couples’ third son, Michel.

Trudeau and Sinclair’s romance materialized at a time when the private lives of politicians and celebrities first became seriously targeted by the media. The combination of Trudeau’s charismatic personality mixed with Sinclair’s beauty and youth made the newlyweds a popular item at the newsstands.

After only a few years of marriage however, the fairytale romance began to fall apart. It appeared that Sinclair’s youthful free spirit could not be tamed by the title “First Lady,” and her behaviour did not fit well with the expectations associated with her new title. It was not until decades later that Sinclair was diagnosed with manic depression, triggered by the stresses of life in the spotlight.

During the 1970s, the media was obsessed with Sinclair and Canadians were infatuated with learning about her personal life. The paparazzi followed her every move. Pictures documented Sinclair relentlessly when she frequented Manhattan’s Studio 54 dance club, and were accompanied by rumours of affairs.

When Trudeau lost his majority government in the 1979 election, the media was just as interested in Sinclair’s whereabouts as it was with the election results. All of Canada knew the next day that Sinclair had not been at Trudeau’s side because she was off partying with the Rolling Stones.

The couple made efforts to save the marriage but were unable to do so, and in 1984 they were officially divorced. The two remained friendly and both were involved in raising their children.

When Pierre Trudeau died in 2000, two years after son Michel was killed in an avalanche, Sinclair attended the funeral with sons Justin and Alexander. Over the last decade, Sinclair gained control over her depression and in 2010 published Changing My Mind, a book that shares her own story of struggle with bi-polar disorder and is dedicated to helping others learn to live with a mental illness.

More Online

Maggie and Pierre are Married in Secret [CBC — Broadcast: March 5, 1971]
The Trudeaumania bubble bursts as Canada’s most eligible bachelor announces he has secretly married Margaret Sinclair, a woman 28 years younger. Only 12 people attended the Vancouver ceremony. The Sinclairs believed they were gathering for a family portrait. Trudeau’s aides thought the couple was skiing. CBC Radio talks about the wedding that started a new chapter for Trudeau — the family man.

The Private Life of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau (courtesy of Watchmojo.com).
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