It was so weirdly Canadian. Filled with more emotion over Pierre Trudeau's death than they could contain inside themselves, Canadians responded with the one public act not at odds with their reserved natures. They applauded.
In Montreal yesterday, they applauded Mr. Trudeau's coffin being removed from city hall as if something clever had been done. They applauded the eulogies to him in church.
"That surprised, astounded me. Applause in church," said York University historian H. Vivian Nelles, who teaches a course on public memory and popular culture in Canada. "We're such an unemotional people."
The day before they had applauded Mr. Trudeau's funeral train rolling through the countryside between Ottawa and Montreal. Politely applauded.
One act of polite reserve after another:
Mr. Trudeau's nine-year-old daughter Sarah, with her mother Deborah Coyne, appeared publicly yesterday for the first time. Almost anywhere but in Canada, the two would have been the focus of frenetic media attention, lingering camera close-ups, prolonged commentary. In Montreal, the cameras whiffed across their faces a few times and the TV commentators tersely acknowledged they were there.
Such an unusual journey the country has been on. And after five days of Canadians being gathered together in grief from coast to coast to coast, as Justin Trudeau put it, the questions come:
Given our reserve, has the magnitude of emotional response to Mr. Trudeau's death been surprising? Has it been all real, or created in part by the media? Will it leave some sort of residual impact on the country?
Two of the country's leading pulse-takers -- Michael Adams of Environics Research and Michael Marzolini of Pollara Inc. -- say no, there has been no surprise; all the evidence of Mr. Trudeau's hold on our souls was known before he died. (Mr. Marzolini, in contrast, was surprised by the emotional outpouring surrounding the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, especially in contrast to the paucity of attention shown Mother Teresa, who died at the same time.)
University of British Columbia political scientist Ken Carty was struck by the dimensions of the public reaction and thought at first he might have been witnessing a media-manufactured event. He then found himself being drawn into it.
He still thinks, to a degree, that it has been a baby-boomer event recorded by the baby-boomer media, in English. But with one significant exception: The immigrant community strongly believes it was Mr. Trudeau who allowed them to feel a sense of ownership of the country -- a belief transcending generations. That feeling will be strengthened by the emotional emanations around his death, Prof. Carty said.
Prof. Nelles of York rejects any notion of a media-created event. "Peter Mansbridge didn't get everyone down to the train station in Alexandria," he said. (Nearly 2,000 people gathered along the tracks in the small eastern Ontario town to see the funeral train go by.)
"What the media has done is open channels for people to see how other people are acting, and, in this way, feel that their own actions are affirmed."
What surprised Prof. Nelles was not the dimensions of the emotion but how the emotion was sometimes pushed to the surface -- the weird applause.
Geoffrey Stevens, managing editor of Maclean's magazine, said he was somewhat surprised by the magnitude of Canadians' emotional grieving. He expected it, he said, from Mr. Trudeau's fans, but there was considerably more than he anticipated from those who had been neutral about the former prime minister or had not liked him or his policies.
As for what imprint -- if any -- this emotional event will leave on Canada?
No academics, no pollsters, no journalists thought Mr. Trudeau's death and the outpouring of public affection could be turned into an electoral benefit for any politician or political party.
"Anyone who tried to [invoke Pierre Trudeau]would be compared to Pierre Trudeau," Prof. Carty said.
Mr. Stevens thought Mr. Trudeau's death and the memories of his passionate love for the country could rekindle Canadian nationalism. "Maybe it will have the effect of restoring or reinvigorating a sense of Canadian nationalism, a sense of uniqueness and maybe even of purpose -- sense of 'Hey, that was a pretty good country when Pierre Trudeau was around,' " he said.
Mr. Marzolini, the Liberal Party's pollster, said he did not see in the emotions surrounding Mr. Trudeau's death much beneficial legacy for his policies.
"We're not talking about anything that impacts on elections here." The legacy, he said, is Mr. Trudeau's statesmanship.
Like Mr. Marzolini, Mr. Adams of Evironics thought the legacy would be about the man, not his policies. That it would be a sociocultural legacy -- in fact, the legacy of a new definition of masculinity, a different kind of masculinity.
Mr. Adams said that from this day on when Canadians tell stories to each other -- or to their children -- about Mr. Trudeau, it will be to repeat the stories told these past few days about Pierre Trudeau the gentleman, about his civility, about his tolerance and respect for others, about his devotedness as a father, about Justin's story of making a childish joke about Conservative leader Joe Clark to please his father, only to be admonished never to denigrate an opponent.
What these stories will be about, said Mr. Adams, is postmodern man -- about a man who presents a strong image of Dad, about a man who can be intelligent, sexy, playful, ironic and defiant of convention and traditional authority, who can break the rules if the rules don't make sense to him. Who is spiritual and loves nature.
"I have come to the conclusion that his most fundamental contribution was to symbolize the redefinition of what it is to be a man."
It may be hard for Canadians to return to normal. They have not been accustomed to so much feeling and mystery in their lives.