SPRING BAY—Shannon McMullan was a novice teacher barely into her first job in Ontario, teaching music and drama at Rockcliffe Park Public School, when she found herself entrusted with the education of a young Justin Trudeau.
“I grew up with pictures of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Justin Trudeau’s father and Canada’s 15th prime minister) on my bedroom walls where my girlfriends had pictures of rock stars,” she recalled.
The Trudeau children were educated in a public school, a school surrounded by elite private schools on all sides where the children of diplomats and members of Canada’s power elite sent their children. “But Justin’s parents went to a lot of trouble to ensure that they were treated normally,” said Ms. McMullan. “The school bus pulled into 24 Sussex Drive and the Trudeau children took the bus to school. They could have been dropped off at school by limousine, but their parents elected to have their children treated like any other children.”
Having the children of the prime minister attending classes at the school meant that there were plenty of additional pressures on the teaching staff, however. “We were trained in surveillance and to be very observant of cars passing by the school yard.”
This was a period when the Quebec Crisis was still very fresh in the national consciousness. “The Quebec Crisis happened while I was in university, but this was one of my first jobs out of university,” explained Ms. McMullan. “Justin started at the school the first year after I began teaching.”
The young Justin Trudeau was enrolled in the immersion program, but the school’s guiding tenets were a well-rounded education. ““I taught music and drama to the immersion grades and Justin was also in the school choir, which I directed,” recalled Ms. McMullan. “The children of many of the members of Trudeau’s cabinet (John Tuner, Otto Lang, Judd Buchanan, etc) also attended the school as well as the children of the various Governors General. This remarkable school was one of the first (maybe the first) in Canada to have French Immersion. In fact, Junior and Senior Kindergarten was offered only in French; then Grades 1 to 8 had English and French immersion streams. During my tenure at Rockcliffe, I taught Core French, various French Immersion subjects and music and drama to everyone. Matthew Perry, the actor famous for his role as Chandler on `Friends` was also part of this mix. My years at RPPS formed a wonderful first chapter to a very rewarding 35-year teaching career.”
When it came to Justin Trudeau’s prime minister father, Ms. McMullan said that he was a very family oriented man. “He would miss Question Period to be with his children,” she said. “I can remember the critics assailing him for not being in the House, but I knew where he was, he was helping his son lace up his skates.”
As to her memories of the young Justin Trudeau, Ms. McMullan recalls, “It was a time when we had very large groups (in classes), but he struck me as a lovely young man, sensitive and kind, those are my memories of him.”
Ms. McMullan, a self-confessed lifelong Liberal, said that she hoped the new Liberal government headed up by her former pupil would herald a return to the inclusive values she cherishes as part of Canada’s legacy and a return to a national foreign policy independent of that of the US.
But when it came to the local federal MP Carol Hughes, Ms. McMullan reflected the sentiments of her former student towards those who put themselves forward for public service, noting that she was impressed with the representation of both Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes and Algoma Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, both of whom are NDP members in their respective houses.