Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Funeral in Sherbrooke

I've mentioned in several past posts, but it bears repeating, that for personal reasons I don't criticize Premier Jean Charest.
It's not to say that I agree with many of his policies or that I blindly agree with all that he does, but rather because I am somewhat of a friend of the extended Charest family.

Readers should note that I remain politically inactive and have been so for a long time, however friendships endure.

On Friday, my wife and I ventured down to Sherbrooke for the funeral of the patriarch of the Charest clan, Claude, better known as "Red," who was quite a character in his time.  As a young man, he  played hockey in the American Hockey League and went on to become a very successful entrepreneur in the Sherbrooke area. After the untimely death of his wife at a very young age, Red took over the duties of running the Charest household, which was quite a task, considering that there were five children. In those days it was quite unheard of for a single dad to raise a family, but Red was a ground breaker.

The trip down to Sherbrooke was long and uneventful, uneventful that is, until I was nabbed by an intrepid Sherbrooke motorcycle cop for exceeding the speed limit along King Street.
DRAT, those 50km zones!
My copper's keen police sense determined that we were going to the funeral (my wife and I were decked out in black) and he asked helpfully if I needed directions to the funeral home. I felt a brief connection and  a glimmer of hope that perhaps I was to be spared a citation, but alas it was not to be.  He did offer an apology after giving me the ticket, something that no cop has ever done to me before.

Hmmm. Mr. Policeman, we would meet again...

The only silver lining was that 26 kms over the limit, the ticket was only $140 and 2 points. In Montreal it'd probably be $700 and a license suspension or perhaps a guillotining.

My mood had clouded over badly, getting a ticket will  do it to to you every time, but getting one with your wife in the passenger seat is doubly painful.

As I returned to the driver's seat, all I could mutter was "Don't say a Frigging Word!!!" to which she just smiled demurely, inflicting another measure of pain.

To make matters worse, I should have taken up the cop's offer of directions, because shortly thereafter I became miserably lost, stupidly depending on the technology of my hitherto trusty GPS device, which uncharacteristically announced in a coy female voice (without a hint of embarrassment) that it too, was hopelessly lost.

After stopping for directions from a local who answered my French queries in English, we were back on our way. I had forgotten how obliging country folks are and how many people in Sherbrooke spoke English. I started to feel better.

We got to the funeral home and were neatly instructed where to park, where to go and what to do. I was reminded that French Catholic funeral homes are exceedingly efficient.

We entered the building and walked past a long lineup of people, who were patiently waiting to walk by the casket and greet the family. Just as I attempted to cut the line, my wife grabbed my arm and directed me back to the end of the line. Oh well....

The hall was filled with politico types, most of whom I only knew from seeing on TV. All were bedecked with tiny lapel pins that identified them as National Assembly members, Order of Canada inductees and various other organizations including several police departments. After paying our respects it was off to Church for mass and as I placed my car in the funeral cortège, I noticed that we were to benefit from a nifty VIP police motorcycle escort, with of course my favourite motorcycle cop, who gave me a polite salute in recognition. Eccchh!!!

We zipped through the streets, with the cops seamlessly blocking each intersection which we passed, giving rise, in small measure, to feelings of royalty.

The Church's left front side was filled with politicians, mostly members of the National Assembly and including ex-Premiers including Lucine Bouchard. Brian Mulroney and Mila had the front seat and my wife and I were seated across from the lovely Yolande James, who was looking particularly fetching. Too bad it can't be said of all, including the education Minister who could probably use a fashion makeover.

Fittingly, Peter Mackay, the Defence Minister was representing Ottawa. His father Elmer was a good friend and cabinet colleague of Charest  in the Mulroney government. 

During the service the Health Minister was pulled out of the pews rather unceremoniously by an aide.  It must have been serious and it was. I later found out that several cyclists were mowed down in Rougemont, a town we drove by coming down to Sherbrooke.

The Premier made a nice speech about his father and the long service finally came to  a close. As we left the church I noticed Lawrence Bergman, the MP from Cote Saint Luc and Hampstead, alongside Steven Cummings, a Charest fundraiser and self-proclaimed spokesman for the Jewish community. Both looked a little glum, probably because attending church is likely not their favorite pastime.

Outside the church, Brian Mulroney worked the crowd like an old pro, shaking hands and slapping backs with a wide grin, perhaps forgetting that he was in fact attending a funeral.

The Charests held a small reception in a local museum which we attended briefly before making our way home.

Foolishly trusting my GPS to get us home, the device took us on a nice 'tour de ville' which I actually turned out to enjoy. Sherbrooke has a fine Anglo history which is reflected in the many street names that hark back to jolly old England.
It's a city where Wellington Street turns into Queen and where Argyle crosses Dominion and  King bisects Portland. It's a city that proudly remembers it wartime heritage and is home to the most elegant war memorial outside Montreal.

We finally left via the beautifully named "Jacques O'Brady" highway and as I took to the road for the long trip home I was up for some pleasant conversation, I turned to my wife. "So dear, what did you think of the whole affair?"

She stared straight ahead and after a pregnant pause said but two words.
"Don't speed!"


  1. A sad but sentimental journey. Actually, an uncle of mine who died in 1963 at age 52 was a ground breaker as well. His father, my grandfather, died 30 years earlier, and my then 22-year-old uncle took over the family businesses. That was in 1933, and I'm sure you know through history what the state of the economy was back then.

    My late mother, just 8 years old then, remembered when my uncle leaned over at the dining room table, sobbing in his cradled arms because my grandfather, dead at the age of 44, left the business assets pledged to the hilt with debt.

    With only a grade 4 education, my uncle kept the businesses going and turned their fortune around. He had five younger siblings to support. My mother described her brother as more like a father to her, and being 14 years her senior, in a real sense he was her father. She thought the world of him. Same went for most of his other siblings.

    I was only five years old when he died. Although my memories of him are few, I do remember he was a kind, gentle man and very easy to approach. Interestingly, my mom's family were Russian refugees, and my North American roots started in Sherbrooke almost 100 years ago. My grandfather settled about 22 miles south of Sherbrooke, and my mother was born there. My uncle was born in Russia, arriving in Canada as a toddler.

    I imagine Red Charest earned the respect of a lot of people, and from the sound of your endorsement deservedly so, but so did my uncle as the reluctant but responsible patriarch of his family about 30 years before Mr. Charest.


  3. Dear Anon at 12:39
    I enjoyed your story, it adds to the richness of this blog and the narrative that is the story of Anglo Quebeckers.
    Please, please, please, continue commenting and may I respectfully suggest that you start each comment with a "handle" so that readers can follow you.
    Don't use your real name, it can be something like---- THE RUSSIAN, or anything else you choose. We are a community and it's nice to know to whom we're reading about ....
    Well done.....

  4. "My copper's keen police sense determined that we were going to the funeral (my wife and I were decked out in black) and he asked helpfully if I needed directions to the funeral home."

    Did he asked you in French?

    Hostie de ville laide et vieille pareil Sherbrooke, dire que j'ai passé 7 ans de ma vie là-bas. Un peu comme Trois-Rivières ou Victoriaville finalement...

    As for Charest, it could be hasardous to talk against him, talk to Bellemarre for instance.

    At least, we know for sure that Charest's got at least one vote in his pocket ;)!



  5. Editor, thank you for the compliments on the story re my Eastern Township, and first North American roots. I didn't use any names in my description, only that my late mother was a born Townshipper.

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