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Nova Scotia paid tribute to a former premier and federal Conservative leader yesterday by naming the newly expanded main terminal building at Halifax International for Robert L. Stanfield.

Mr. Stanfield, who died in 2003 at the age of 89, was fondly remembered at the ceremony by his family and colleagues. His widow, Anne, and three of his children unveiled a brass plaque in the observation lounge honouring his political legacy.

Ms. Stanfield said she was touched by the recognition but noted the irony in the selection of the terminal.

"I have to tell you that airports were not Bob's favourite places," she said to laughter from the crowd. "They usually meant waiting and Bob was not a patient man."

She said her husband, known for his modesty, would have been surprised by the gesture.

"I do think he would feel he was entitled to have a chair named after him in a departure lounge. But the idea that a whole terminal would bear his name would overwhelm him."

Mr. Stanfield, born into the wealthy underwear-manufacturing family of Truro, N.S., entered provincial politics in his early 1930s. He took over a Conservative Party that held no seats in 1946 and led it to power in 1956, holding the premiership until 1967.

He became leader of the federal Conservative Party in time to face Pierre Trudeau in the 1968 election. Mr. Stanfield stepped down as leader in 1976 after losing a third consecutive election to Mr. Trudeau.

Gerry Doucet, one of the last surviving members of Mr. Stanfield's provincial cabinet, was at the airport for the ceremony.

"He was a tremendous leader. So very modest and so very capable and so full of integrity that no one of us would ever dare embarrass him on anything," Mr. Doucet said.

There was also a tribute from former Liberal premier Gerald Regan, who recalled squaring off with Mr. Stanfield in the mid-60s, first from the gallery and then on the floor of the legislature when he was chosen party leader.

"One of the first letters I got was from Premier Stanfield saying there would be occasions when we disagreed, but that we would remain friends and show respect throughout. And we did."

Halifax International is in the middle of a multimillion dollar renovation. The airport authority has spent $82-million during the past five years to upgrade the terminal by enlarging the domestic and international arrivals area. Repair work on the two main runways is also under way.

As the largest regional hub in Atlantic Canada, Halifax handled about 3.6 million passengers last year.