The paparazzi was out in full force Monday afternoon when Justin Trudeau and his family pulled up in their RV to meet Greater Trail residents.
Nearly 150 people at Gyro Park swarmed Justin for signatures and photos as soon as his family stepped out of their RV and into the sunshine and spotlight.
The Liberal leader’s visit touched him closer than he imagined when, among the throngs of people, he met a second cousin for the first time who also knew his brother Michel before his tragic death.
Trudeau’s cross-Canada trip brought him through the province to connect with extended family like Warfield’s Maureen Milne and her children, but it was also an opportunity to visit his brother’s resting place.
“I met his brother many times when he was living in Rossland, he was at the house for supper and I used to see him on the ski hill all the time,” said Milne, a second cousin of the Trudeaus.
“He was a gentle soul, a typical teenager, a ski bum.
“He loved his skiing and really when you look at it, he died doing what he loved best.”
On Nov. 13, 1998 Michel, who was 23 and living in Rossland at the time, was swept in Kokanee Lake by an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park while on a ski tour with friends. Michel drowned in the lake and despite an extensive search, his body was never recovered.
Justin has been back to the Kootenays on several occasions and was a big part of the campaign to build a new cabin in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
He has been to the lake many times over the years, but has never brought his family — wife Sophie Gregoire, son Xavier, 6, and daughter Ella-Grace, 4, — until Monday prior to arriving in Trail.
Graham Jones of Rossland and District Search and Rescue was one of the volunteers at the meet and greet held at Gyro Park Monday afternoon. Though this is the first time he’s met Justin in person, he said the Trudeau family has been instrumental in raising funds for necessary equipment.
Meanwhile, Trudeau also paused briefly to talk politics.
The 41-year-old told the enthusiastic crowd that he wants to change the way politics are carried out in Canada and was humbled by the turnout, which he took as a sign that people are ready for change.
“People have said that this is not necessarily fertile territory for the Liberals. I think last time we got four per cent of the vote but you have to understand that that’s not the lens through which I’m looking at this travel,” he told the crowd.
Trail resident Sandra Doell has been a Trudeau fan since his family legacy began, with his father Pierre Trudeau, and was pleased to bring her 97-year-old mother along.
“We need Justin and I’m so glad that he wanted to take it on,” she said.
Though the road trip was more of a family affair, Justin also used it as an opportunity to perhaps gain some more supporters.
He wanted to spread his message that if Canada worked together as one, the country could face challenges together and build a stronger future for the next generation.
“We are Canadians, we built this extraordinary project of a country by rolling up our sleeves and dreaming big and nowhere do you see that more than in extraordinary places like here in the Interior, in Trail,” he added. “The people who built this country are the kinds of people who still live here in this town and that approach is one one that I feel extremely close to.”
Seventeen-year-old Jesse Bartsoff said Justin is a voice that the younger generation can relate to.
“For younger people a lot of us don’t care and that’s why I want to care about politics because in the near future it will be our decision, not the older generation anymore,” he said. “If there is an election called after next year, after my 18th birthday, I’ll definitely be rushing to the polls.”
Justin and his family were presented “Trudeau” Smoke Eaters’ jerseys from Cal Hockley, the captain of the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters’ World Championship team.
Italian baking and other Trail musts were also handed off to the family, who was headed to Kelowna for their next stop.