Sen. Ron Duhamel’s commitment to his family, lifelong learning, and Canada was praised Saturday when more than 1,000 mourners packed St. Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg for his funeral.
Duhamel, who had passed away a week ago Monday after a long battle with cancer, was remembered fondly by many throughout Rainy River District for his efforts to tackle issues facing Northwestern Ontario.
“He was an outstanding voice for Northern Ontario,” Darren Brown of Fort Frances, a long-time Liberal supporter and former provincial candidate, said Monday.
The former MP for St. Boniface, who became Manitoba’s senior Cabinet minister and later appointed to the senator, was born in St. Boniface but spent much of his childhood in Northwestern Ontario.
He later attended Rainy River High School
“He never forgot where he came from. I respect that a lot about him,” Brown recalled.
Brown, who had worked with Duhamel in 1990 with the University of Manitoba’s Board of Governors and then assisted him in his 1993 election campaign, attended Saturday’s funeral along with dozens of high-ranking Liberal colleagues.
“The whole cathedral was packed and it was standing room only,” Brown noted.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had intended to attend the funeral, but was unable to free himself from duties escorting the Queen on her current Golden Jubilee visit to Canada.
But deputy prime minister John Manley was there, along with federal Cabinet ministers and MPs from all major parties. Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and former Cabinet colleague Lloyd Axworthy also were at the cathedral for the service.
Duhamel was celebrated for his many achievements in life—everything from his commitment to lifelong learning and to his community.
“Ron Duhamel ran a school supply drive,” Brown recalled as just one example of his work. “He started it by getting people to donate school supplies to more needy people.
“On his deathbed, he still did it this fall.”
A proud Francophone, Duhamel also respected and celebrated his French-Canadian roots.
“He’s very outgoing, very gregarious, very zealous, particularly about his Canadianism and his French-Canadianism,” Brown said.
The politician also was a family man.
“Something I didn’t know was that he would come home from the House of Commons for all important family occasions,” Brown remarked. “For every birthday, anniversary, or event, he would fly home and be back the next night.”
His death has been hard on his wife, Carolyn, and their three daughters, Kathie, Natalie, and Karine.
“They all expected him to pull through this,” Brown said. “When I spoke to [Carolyn] afterwards, she had a stiff upper lip. She will get through this as best she can.”
For Brown and almost an entire generation within the Liberal party, Duhamel was an inspiration.
“All of us in our mid-30s worked for him,” he remarked. “He respected us and he made us believe not only in ourselves but in our country, as well.”