Canadian News

Populism to pomp: ‘Ed, baby’ moves into Rideau Hall

Julianne Labreche February 5 1979
Canadian News

Populism to pomp: ‘Ed, baby’ moves into Rideau Hall

Julianne Labreche February 5 1979

Populism to pomp: ‘Ed, baby’ moves into Rideau Hall

As Edward Richard Schreyer and his wife, Lily, gathered buffalo robes nearer to protect themselves against the biting Ottawa cold and rattled away to Rideau Hall in an open-air landau pulled by jet-black horses, they sighed a freezing breath of relief. Except for a stray dog nipping at the horses’ hooves, the 85minute ceremonies marking Ed Schreyer’s stunning metamorphosis from a Prairieborn populist politician to Canada’s 22nd Governor-General had gone without a hitch—unlike the chaos at the previous day’s dress rehearsal. Even Toban, the Schreyers' rambunctious son (4 next month) behaved himself during the stately postcard procession down the centre aisle of the scarlet Senate Chamber.

Now, as the Schreyers departed for their new home in the stone mansion, the spectators, including 400 flag-waving schoolchildren and 1,500 invited guests, whose status ranged from gold-plated establishment to just plain folks, were left to ponder first impressions of their new G-G. Schreyer’s speech, delivered smoothly in five languages—English, French, German, Ukrainian and Polish—made a strong plea for national unity, a theme he intends carrying to timber towns and fishing villages across the country early in his term of office. (His first trip was to open the Quebec Winter Carnival this week, when he was to meet with Premier René Lévesque.) Schreyer wrote the speech himself, in longhand, and only some bad grammar was edited out by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s office. During the ceremonies, while singing his praises, Trudeau hinted that Schreyer will become a close political confidant: "Personally I look forward to my weekly meetings with you because I feel that a man who has known the joys and anguish of elective office will offer unusually well-informed advice.” Later, one Liberal insider, ever-cautious but exuberant about Schreyer’s rapidly blossoming popularity and his readiness to pick up the national unity torch, confided, "We’ll have to be careful—it could backfire.”

The precision timing of events on Parliament Hill was hardly paralleled with the confusion back at Rideau Hall where the new First Family was shepherded into the Queen’s suite temporarily while their own rooms were being redecorated, and then were introduced to the 89-member staff. Barely having time to unpack, the Schreyers’ first week was jammed with briefings, appointments and receptions with the diplomatic corps, cabinet ministers and the press gallery. (One reporter who has always called Schreyer "Ed, baby" addressed him in the receiving line as "Your

Excellency, baby.”) The Schreyers also entertained 120 close family friends and relatives, including Schreyer’s 86-year-old mother, Elizabeth, actor Chief Dan George and author Farley Mowat and his wife Clare, who once camped out in their trailer in the Schreyers’ Winnipeg backyard for several months. (So far, at least, the Mowat trailer has not been seen in Rideau Park.)

By Thursday, craving some privacy, Lily confessed: "I’ve found a great big closet to retreat to.’’

Still, the close Schreyer clan found time for one another. Earlier in the week, Schreyer took his older children to their first day of school classes in Ottawa and, later, Toban and his parents took time off for a relaxed game of curling on the residence's rink with the household staff. Reluctantly, the staff confessed it won.

Julianne Labreche