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In the old days, we’d haul out the IBM Selectric, or The Pig, to write big speeches

By Isabel Metcalfe      

It was old and grey and heavy and lived in the basement of the Langevin Block, the office of the prime minister. It was used for speaking texts for the prime minister and the Queen.

Prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau signing the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982. April 17, 2019, is Constitution Day in Canada. I think back to the day of that famous picture on Parliament Hill with a proud prime minister and a pleased monarch signing the 1982 Canada Constitution Act enshrining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reading pages from my hands. And over in the Archives of Canada is the rain splattered speaking texts from that day. Photograph courtesy of Department of Justice

OTTAWA—It was old, grey, heavy, and it lived in the basement of the Office of the Prime Minister on Wellington Street. It was used to type out speaking texts for the prime minister and the Queen. Too hard to lift, it had its own typewriter table that was rolled out when necessary. But it produced speaking texts that the PM and the Queen could use without reading glasses. Each letter and number had its own key, and every mistake was hard to correct, and when you were typing for them it had to be perfect. As a young secretary in prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s office, it was the most frightening aspect of our work. In the days before word processors, when the IBM Selectric was considered high-tech, The Pig—which is what it was universally called—was difficult.

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