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New wave of Albertans learns the Lougheed legacy

The body of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed is carried out of the Alberta Legislature Edmonton on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.


The photos lining the west wing of the Alberta Legislature said it all. In them, Peter Lougheed stands with dignitaries of all stripes: Charles and Diana, a Soviet premier and, in another, a Saudi sheik.

There is Mr. Lougheed in a hay-pitching contest; or panning for gold; or taking part in a summer parade, waving from atop the back seat of a convertible with a sign ("P. Lougheed") stuck to the driver's door with masking tape. That was 39 years ago.

Such was the life of Mr. Alberta – a lauded statesman with a common touch, whose Progressive Conservatives swept into the Legislature in 1971. As premier, Mr. Lougheed seeded growth in the oil sands, started the Heritage Savings Trust Fund and battled Pierre Trudeau. All this made him an icon.

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But it's been 27 years since Mr. Lougheed left the premier's office. Since then, Alberta's population has grown by half. This month's eulogies haven't been about remembrance alone. They've extended the Lougheed legacy to a new wave of Albertans.

Flags have flown at half-mast at schools across the province since his death last Thursday, at the age of 84 in a hospital named after him. Remembrance messages have poured in. For two days, his body lay in state in the Legislature rotunda, the casket draped with the flags of Canada and Alberta (folded so half of each is visible) with five uniformed guards, heads bowed.

About 2,000 people visited, greeted by Lougheed family members who shook the hand of each mourner. Then, on Tuesday evening, the Legislature's Peter Lougheed era came to an end.

Eight Mounties carried the casket along a red carpet to a waiting hearse. The motorcade made two stops, at the family's request – at the University of Alberta's Rutherford House, where he lived as a member of a fraternity, and later at the church where he was married. The motorcade then headed south to Calgary, where Mr. Lougheed will receive a state memorial on Friday. He's the first Alberta premier to receive the honour.

Premier Alison Redford was among the dignitaries paying respects on a busy Monday. On Tuesday, the final day, there was rarely a line. Visitors could walk right in. A few were young. Others knew Mr. Lougheed only by reputation. Those who'd met him each had a story.

Retired civil servant Cecil MacKenzie recalled Mr. Lougheed thoroughly combing the budget of each ministry – bureaucrats would warn each other to be up to speed or face the premier's ire. Mourners Muriel Nelson and her husband, Larry, recalled bumping into Mr. Lougheed in Charlottetown three decades ago. "We never voted Conservative, but I have such good memories of him," she said. "He always had time for everyone, no matter what political stripe."

Amid the memorials, crews cleaned graffiti off Lougheed House, a Calgary historical site the former premier's grandfather built. The "strict vandalism" by unidentified perpetrators appeared over the weekend, Lougheed House executive director Blane Hogue said. He doesn't think it has anything to do with Mr. Lougheed's death. "They probably don't even know who he is," Mr. Hogue said.

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Lougheed House has seen a spike in visitors since the former premier's passing. Mr. Hogue hopes the week of memorials is a chance to stir the attention of the fast-growing province and pay tribute to all that Mr. Lougheed brought to Alberta. "This will kind of raise the awareness, seeing the outpouring and the respect in which he's held," Mr. Hogue said. "It's possible to be a powerful, iconic figure, and do it with grace and charm."

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