Frank Cotroni's convictions for manslaughter and drug smuggling were largely forgotten Saturday as friends and family hailed the reputed Mob boss as a kind and giving man at an elaborate funeral service in the city's Little Italy district.
The ceremony for Cotroni, who died Tuesday of brain cancer at his daughter's home, was crowned with the release of 72 white doves, one for each year of Cotroni's life. Family members clutched each other and cried as they looked on.
"Frankie was a giver," family friend Gene Cloutier, 75, said. "If you told him he had a nice tie, he would take it off and give it to you.
"Believe me. It doesn't matter what you may have heard about him. I knew him since we were young. He was a really nice guy."
Mid-morning, 16 cars covered with extravagant flower arrangements clogged the streets surrounding the Notre-Dame-de-la-Defence Church.
Some of the arrangements were sent by notable Quebecers, including the Hilton boxing family and Rene Angelil, manager and husband of singer Celine Dion.
The procession was followed by six limousines carrying members of the Cotroni family.
Friends and family poured into the Roman Catholic church as media and several dozen onlookers crowded the street outside.
"I don't care what people say about him," said Frank Rohac, 81, a longtime family friend as he made his way into the church. "He was one of the good ones. I respected him when he was alive. Now I'm here to respect him in his death."
Matthew Hilton, a former junior middleweight champ, called Cotroni "fantastic" and said he had been unconditional in his support for the notorious boxing clan.
"He was like a member of the family," Mr. Hilton said. "I'll never forget him. He was always there for us, he helped us like you wouldn't believe. I can't even tell you how, there was so much."
Along with brothers Vic and Pepe, Cotroni was linked to New York's powerful Bonanno crime organization and allegedly controlled several Quebec rackets.
In 1975, Cotroni was convicted in the United States of smuggling cocaine into New York City through Mexico and served four years of a 15-year sentence. Cotroni was later sentenced to eight years in prison for the 1981 killing of police informant Giuseppe Montegano in an east-end Montreal club.
Most recently, Cotroni was released from prison in 2002 after serving four years of a seven-year sentence for conspiring to import 180 kilograms of cocaine into Canada.
There was no visible police presence outside the church. The FBI said earlier in the week it would not monitor the funeral in person but could receive intelligence from the RCMP.
After the funeral, a singer, accompanied by people playing the accordion, mandolin and guitar, led family and friends out of the church singing Calabria Mia, a nod to the region in Italy where Cotroni was born.
Friend Maria Vendittelli, 58, described the funeral as "very religious."
"None of the family spoke," she said. "It was a beautiful, humble service. Just like he was, a very simple man."
However, some said the service seemed more like a show.
Onlookers in bathrobes gawked from their balconies as mourners made their way to and from the church. Others grabbed their camcorders and cameras to take pictures of the funeral procession as it made its way to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges for the burial.
"How grandiose," Jeannine Gratton, 82, said as she took in the scene. "What a spectacle. You don't often see something this big."