Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Farewell, Allan J. - Hundreds, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, celebrate life of a Canadian icon

September 17th, 2017
Canadian Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau speaks at a Ceremony of Life at StFX for the late Hon. Allan J. MacEachen, regarded as one of Canada's most important and respected politicians

The life and legacy of one of Canada’s most important and respected politicians, the Hon. Allan J. MacEachen, was honoured as hundreds—including Canadian Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau—filled StFX’s Keating Centre Sept. 17 for a celebration of life for a man regarded as a Canadian icon.

Mr. MacEachen, 96, a native of Inverness, Cape Breton, died Sept. 12, 2017. The longtime Nova Scotia MP, cabinet minister and senator was also Canada's first deputy prime minister. He was one of StFX’s most notable alumni.

“I bring the thanks of a grateful country,” Prime Minister Trudeau said during a poignant ceremony that reflected on Mr. MacEachen’s many achievements that are part of the Canadian social fabric including the Medical Care Act, the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and the Canada Labour Code.  

Mr. Trudeau told a crowd that included extended family, friends and many dignitaries including former Canadian prime minister the Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien as one of the honorary pallbearers, that Mr. MacEachen too seldom gets the credit he so deserves for his monumental accomplishments.

“Canadians are living in the country Allan J. built, and they like it,” he said as spoke on the achievements of the man he called a peerless parliamentarian.

As the son of former Canadian prime minister, the Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the prime minister said he also brings thanks from his grateful father to Mr. MacEachen, his intimate and loyal friend and a once-in-a-lifetime minister.

Mr. Trudeau says he now understands why they got along so well. The bedrock of their values, what they believed in their bones, was that all people are equal and “that freedom and equality of opportunity ought to be and could be every Canadian’s birthright.”

When Mr. MacEachen entered politics, the Canada that people wanted existed only in people’s dreams, he said.

“By the time he left in 1996, it was a fact of life.”

Nobody did more and certainly nobody did it better, to make that happen, he said.

“Allan J. made it happen.”

He spoke of Mr. MacEachen’s parliamentary genius, his high esteem on the global stage, and the key part he played in helping his father achieve his life’s work, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

“He made Canada look a lot more like what the country Canadians wanted it be,” he said as he challenged Canadians to honour him by recommitting to these same ideals.

“May you rest in the peace that you so honourably earned.”

GREAT CHAMPION

“Mr. MacEachen privileged so many of us,” long-serving executive assistant Kenzie MacKinnon said in his remarks, one of four individuals along with Mr. Trudeau to speak during the ceremony, bringing insight into Mr. MacEachen’s life, times and character.

“I was privileged because people like me had a great champion who was one of us,” he said as he noted how he grew up in rural Cape Breton in the last half of the 20th century, where many things could have been seen as a disadvantage. “When we watched on the television news, he made us proud,” he said.

Mr. MacEachen represented the hopes and needs of all Canadians, and he truly believed to his core that good government could make people better, he said.

“How terribly privileged we were to have this great man in our lives.”

Former Ontario premier, former MP, and close friend, the Hon. Bob Rae, echoed the sentiment.

“We’re here to honour Allan’s memory. We should also be grateful for his life and presence among us.”

Mr. Rae told how Mr. MacEachen fell under the influence of Rev. Moses Coady and the Antigonish Movement while a student at StFX and how these values honed on the StFX campus, the belief in a full and abundant life for all, stayed with him for the rest of his life.

MANY WAYS TO SERVE

More than just beliefs, he was able to put these values into practice, he said.

And though he had his share of disappointments over the years, he found many ways to serve.

Nor did he forget where he came from. “He was a Cape Bretoner through and through.”

Mr. Rae said Mr. MacEachen was a tremendous worker for his constituents. He delivered the goods for his people in the best possible sense, and he helped to change people’s lives.

“Canada is a different and better place because of what he did,” Mr. Rae said.

“The deep changes he brought about should make us proud.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen MacNeil described Mr. MacEachen as a remarkable person who had his fingerprints on many of the progressive social policies of our time. But his true essence, he said, was that he never forgot where he came from.

The source of Mr. MacEachen’s strength lay at home in his constituency, where the injustices he saw, such as watching miners in Inverness work a lifetime only to retire without a pension, began to shape the man. He carried these beliefs always to ensure that no one was forgotten and to make life more fair and easier for those who needed it the most, Mr. MacNeil said.

Mr. MacEachen also left a legacy in influencing and mentoring a generation of young Nova Scotians and Canadians, he noted.  

“On behalf of Nova Scotians, we thank you sir.”

StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald, who served as the master of ceremonies, welcomed all and spoke of the notion of home as more than a place or a structure, and how StFX was Mr. MacEachen’s home in the deepest sense of the word. Not only did he live mere metres from the campus on West St., StFX was Mr. MacEachen’s home for over eight decades, first as a gifted student, then a faithful and dedicated professor, and then for his long support, including serving on the StFX Board of Governors.

“It’s no accident we gather here on the campus, at the university he loved and the university that loved him back,” he said.

Touching tributes throughout the ceremony included special guest, bagpiper Dr. Angus MacDonald of the Isle of Skye, who piped in Mr. MacEachen’s remains to a lilting lament. He was followed by an RCMP honour guard and honorary pallbearers.

The ceremony of life included a smudging ceremony and Mi’kmaq prayer from Elder Kerry Prosper, a Gaelic prayer delivered by Fr. Allan J. MacNeil, and the incomparable talents of world-renowned Cape Breton musicians Stewart and Lucy MacNeil and fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.

CONTRIBUTIONS MANY

Mr. MacEachen, or “Allan J.,” as he was known, was a graduate of the StFX Class of 1944, a former StFX faculty member, and former member of the StFX Board of Governors.

His contributions to politics in Canada were many.

He began his career in 1953 and was re-elected eight times. He served as MP for Inverness-Richmond 1953-58, 1962-68, and then for Cape Breton-Highlands Canso from 1968-84. He was one of Canada’s most powerful cabinet ministers of the postwar era and held a variety of posts including holding the most senior portfolios of economic, social and foreign policy. Following his retirement from the House of Commons in 1984, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada where he remained until his retirement at the age of 75. The recipient of a number of honorary degrees, he was appointed to be an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008.

In 1996, upon his retirement from the Senate of Canada, StFX hosted The MacEachen Conference, honouring his outstanding contributions to Canadian politics. Attendees included participants from all political backgrounds – the Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, fellow StFX alumnus Senator Lowell Murray, and more than a dozen cabinet ministers and colleagues.

In 1997, as a lasting tribute, friends and supporters established StFX’s Allan J. MacEachen Annual Lecture In Politics Series, which has gone on to attract many great leaders to the StFX campus, including no less than four Canadian prime ministers. Mr. MacEachen attended every lecture.

 

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