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Sentinels stand guard as former prime minister Brian Mulroney lies in repose at St. Patrick's Basilica in Montreal on March 21.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

After two days of public tributes in Ottawa, it was Montrealers’ turn on Thursday to pay respects to Brian Mulroney – who was lauded by one citizen as “a little guy” from Quebec’s North Shore who never forgot his roots, even as he rose to become prime minister.

Former premiers, old friends and members of the public gathered at St. Patrick’s Basilica to remember Mr. Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at age 84. Mourners who lined up in frigid cold remembered his achievements when it came to free trade, the fight against apartheid in South Africa and forging a strong relationship with the United States, but also his love for Quebec and his efforts to bring it closer to the rest of Canada.

Joan Gauthier, who hails from Sept-Iles, Que., near where Mr. Mulroney was born in Baie-Comeau, said Mr. Mulroney was a source of pride and inspiration for the region. “He’s a little guy from the Cote-Nord who did a lot for our region, and I came to salute his departure,” she said.

Montrealers pay their respects as former prime minister Brian Mulroney lies in repose at St. Patrick’s Basilica on March 21.

The Canadian Press

Lucien Bouchard, Quebec premier from 1996 to 2001 and a cabinet minister in Mr. Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government until a falling out over the Constitution, was one of the first to enter the basilica on Thursday morning and greet the Mulroney family.

“It’s a page that is turning in history,” Mr. Bouchard told reporters upon exiting the basilica. “It’s not a happy moment, but we need to salute the life of a remarkable man.”

Mr. Bouchard said he had reconciled with Mr. Mulroney after a long period of frosty relations, and it led to some cherished moments toward the end of Mr. Mulroney’s life.

“Those were great times and sad at the same time because we lost so much time … But we were young – ego, strong convictions from a very legitimate question at stake. It’s a lesson,” he said. “Politics is necessary, but it’s also necessary to deal with it in a human way.”

Brian Mulroney, Canada’s deal maker, played for keeps

Inside the church, the family greeting line included Mr. Mulroney’s wife Mila and their children Caroline, Ben, Nick and Mark, along with Mark’s wife Vanessa and Caroline’s husband Andrew Lapham.

The casket will lie Thursday and Friday at the Catholic Church, built between 1843 and 1847, which served Montreal’s Irish community, many of whom had fled famine in Ireland. A state funeral is set for Saturday at the nearby Notre-Dame Basilica, with eulogies from Caroline Mulroney, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

His casket left Ottawa on Wednesday after two days of lying in state that included visits from the Prime Minister, other political dignitaries and members of the public.

Mr. Charest, Quebec premier between 2003-2012 and member of Mr. Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative cabinet, told reporters Thursday outside the church that “this is a very sad moment, but it’s also beautiful in some ways, as the country pauses to think and reflect upon the heritage of Brian Mulroney and what he has given to the country.”

Mr. Mulroney, who served as prime minister for nine years between 1984 and 1993, was “exceptional,” Mr. Charest said.

“These moments in the life of Canada are important and I sincerely hope that a lot of Canadians will take a moment to stop and reflect and think about what we’ve built together and the very important role that Brian Mulroney has played.”

Trade, the GST and standing against apartheid are key parts of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's time in office which continue to shape contemporary Canada. The Globe's Robert Fife and Marieke Walsh, two different generations of political reporters, reflect on Mr. Mulroney's complex legacy that includes the Karlheinz Schreiber affair.

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