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Friday, Jan. 14, 2000

Trudeaus remember Michel and promote avalanche awareness

By DENE MOORE -- Canadian Press

VANCOUVER (CP) -- More than a year after Michel Trudeau perished in the icy waters of a back-country mountain lake, his mother and brother have broken their silence to speak out about the danger that took his life.

Margaret and Justin Trudeau told TV host Vicki Gabereau that they didn't want searchers to find Michel, who was 23 when an avalanche swept him into the lake during a ski trip.

Margaret Trudeau looks at her son Justin as he talks about his brother Michael killed in an avalance in B.C., during a break in the taping of a TV show in Vancouver (CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)

It was the coroner who wanted to find the body, Margaret said during an interview that was conducted Thursday and broadcast Friday across the country.

Michel's body was not recovered and the search ended last spring.

"It's glorious. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen," said Justin, Michel's oldest brother, of his final resting place in Kokanee Lake. "That's where he was destined to be."

Margaret dabbed at her eyes as photos of her youngest son flashed on the monitor. She hugged Justin and held onto his hand through much of interview.

"When I went up there right after his death I saw this great shaft of light when the sun came up over the hill that seemed to me to be taking his spirit out of the lake," she said.

Michel, a hiking and skiing enthusiast who had worked as a ski-lift attendant at Red Mountain Ski Resort in the southeastern B.C. town of Rossland, was traversing a steep slope above the lake in Kokanee Glacier Park when he was caught by the slide Nov. 13.

He was on a back-country ski trip and returning home from a stay at the Slocan Chief Cabin when the avalanche hit.

Margaret said her son did not suffer.

"Micha just actually put his head of his shoulder and fell asleep," she said, referring to her son by his family nickname.

Michel was the youngest of three sons of Margaret and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who divorced in 1984.

She recently separated from her second husband, businessman Fried Kemper.

The mother and son painted a vivid picture of Michel, who called Kemper mama-san because of the Japanese food she often prepared for the family.

They laughed when at the same time Margaret denied Michel was a risk-taker and Justin wholeheartedly agreed that his brother was.

The two appeared on the show to promote the Canadian Avalanche Association and both have been involved in fundraising for the safety organization since Michel's death.

"We're not a family that gets involved in a lot of things," Trudeau said. "We try to stay away.

"But then when this happened. . .we just felt there was something we wanted to do and we just wanted to get involved a bit more with what Micha loved and Micha did."

Margaret said her involvement with the foundation has helped her.

"When you have such a horrific death of your beautiful child, your son's brother, your husband's son, it's just so outrageously painful that in the healing process it's so important to make the life you've lost live on in our hearts and make a difference," she said. "Micha would have liked that."

The Trudeau family has also offered its support for fundraising for a new Slocan Chief cabin in the provincial park.

Margaret said Michel, an experienced outdoorsman who was wearing safety equipment at the time of the accident, knew of the danger.

But his brother added that the avalanche that knocked Michel into the lake would not have been fatal on its own. Without the water below, Michel would have been able to shake off the snow and carry on, he said.

Since his brother's death, Trudeau has taken an avalanche safety course.

He and his mother were at Mount Seymour in Vancouver on Friday to help launch Avalanche Awareness Days in the province.

Justin said his 80-year-old father, who was recently hospitalized in Montreal for a bout of pneumonia, is doing well.

"He's resting," said Trudeau, who lives in Vancouver and works as a teacher.

Margaret's appearance was a welcome surprise for most of Gabereau's audience members.

"I was thrilled," said Patricia Bessette, who said she has followed her doings for many years.

"I'm just feeling her pain. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a child. She's very brave."

Donations to the avalanche association foundation can be made at Mountain Equipment Co-op stores or information is available at


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