Building sandcastles with Trudeau

Campbell Webster
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This sweet (and hot!) Island summer seems to concentrate our minds, and our memories, towards wonderful pasts. "I am eight years old, today," a 58-year-old friend said to me yesterday, "I can see the sand turtles, and the sand dragons, and the sand dolphins, which my Dad and my sister Melanie sculpted at Stanhope Beach 50 years ago. I am eight again."

It is these admittedly fleeting moments, when our Island is at its shimmering best, that connect us to nature almost completely, releasing us, at least temporarily, from the darker pursuits of agonizing about the past and fearing for the future. Buddhists would be pleased with this state of being, an affirmation of the idea that, "We are where we are."

We exult in living in this (literally) sunny moment, recognizing that life includes suffering, but not just right now. Although, to our collective credit, many of us realize this beach nirvana means hardship for our farmers. "Great weather for tourism, but we could sure use some rain for the crops" is a common refrain.

On this occasionally magical Island, it is not only fantastic weather that stops time and nurtures spirits. Often our rich tradition of live entertainment lifts our hearts even more than tender-toe-lapping Brackley Beach waves. Because it is also true, with each Island summer, whatever the forecast, there seems to be one soul-gripping performance that has us all exclaiming "Wow. I am just an itty-bit more thrilled to be alive after seeing that show."

Such is the experience of those who have seen the remarkable play Trudeau Stories, running for one more week at the Victoria Playhouse. For Trudeau Stories does, in many ways, melt away the daily cares and concerns of our personal journeys and relationships in the same manner a splendid day in nature does. Why? Because its author and performer, Brooke Johnson, one of Canada's finer actors, has built a powerful, sometimes hilarious, and often deeply moving, account of her relationship with the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

The fact that Ms. Johnson was a 24-year-old acting student at the National Theatre School of Canada when she met the 65-year-old Trudeau and struck up an intimate (non-romantic) relationship with the former prime minister is the powerful premise of the piece. And given Trudeau's earned reputation of dating the beautiful and the young, it may be what gets so many people in the door. (Were they boyfriend and girlfriend? What taboos, imagined or otherwise, did they challenge? Etc.)

Ms. Johnson, whose journals of their friendship forms the basis of her play, details a relationship of two loners, as Trudeau dubbed it, and quickly dispels any speculation about romantic involvement. What Trudeau Stories does offer its audience is the realization, as Ms. Johnson said in an interview, that there are "many boxes" we put ourselves in, which may limit our ability to explore rich experiences or unusual relationships. Neither Ms. Johnson nor Trudeau believed in these constraints, and as a result, their connection became possible.

Brooke and Pierre became, plainly put, pals. Brooke was a young woman at the beginning of her adult life and career, while Pierre was somewhat near the other end of that spectrum. They found various warm paths to each other through their love of theatre, the arts in general, their affection for nature through hiking, canoeing, and the thrill of just being silly, including sliding on icy winter Montreal sidewalks.

Trudeau Stories' great charm is that it is offered up without pretentiousness, for never does it rise up and say, "This is my great relationship with the great man." Rather, it just indicates, sweetly and kindly: I had a friend. His journey was concluding, and mine was just beginning. We built some easy loving bridges between us, because neither of us worried too much about why we shouldn't. And so we had a bit of love. Or put another way, we found a way to feel somewhat timeless, to simply connect, as if we were an eternal pair of eight-year-olds building sand castles.

Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at

Organizations: Victoria Playhouse, National Theatre School of Canada

Geographic location: Iceland, Canada, Montreal

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