"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to pay tribute to one of the most distinguished, most devoted and most courageous parliamentarians of our generation," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told several hundred mourners at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica.
"Today, we are all mourning the loss of a man of unity.
"Those who were privileged to be his friend — all those who affectionately called him PC — will remember him as being attentive and sympathetic to the problems of others, tolerant of all points of view and invariably serene. These qualities are far from common. They are even more rare in the fiery world of politics."
Nolin, 64, who was appointed Speaker last November, died April 23 after a five-year battle with a rare form of cancer.
Harper said one name kept coming up during the search for a "rare gem" — someone who could lead the Senate through a particularly difficult period — Nolin's.
"Our political family has lost one of its most admired and best loved members, someone who was a mentor to more than one generation of Conservative Quebec politicians and supporters," Harper told a gathering that included former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and ex-premier Lucien Bouchard.
"Pierre Claude left us too soon but his memory and example will live forever in the hearts of Canadians, especially here, in his beloved Quebec, which he served so well."
Mulroney, who appointed Nolin to the Senate in 1993, also was effusive in his praise.
"With the death of Pierre Claude Nolin, the Senate loses a diligent and devoted member, the Conservative party loses a loyal supporter, his family loses an attentive and loving husband and father, and we all lose a very, very good friend," Mulroney told the service.
"Pierre Claude left too early, it is true, but that didn't stop him from leaving an extraordinary impression wherever he went."
Mulroney praised Nolin as a man who treated his opponents with courtesy and respect.
"If victory was important for Pierre Claude, it wasn't at any price," the former Conservative prime minister said. "A good verbal or political joust never contained personal attacks or malicious rumours. Victory, if it was tainted by spitefulness or malice, wasn't for him. Pierre Claude didn't want any part of that."
Nolin was the unanimous choice as Speaker, with Conservative, Liberal and Independent senators viewing him as a smart, respected, independent-minded man who could steer the upper house through the final dramatic chapters of the expenses scandal that has rocked the Senate to its foundations.
When he took over the chair, Nolin signalled his intention to conduct himself in a non-partisan manner and to devote himself to defending and restoring the reputation of the tarnished upper house.
As Speaker, Nolin was also chair of the Senate's internal economy committee, which establishes the rules for how senators can spend taxpayers' dollars and claim reimbursement for expenses.
Although he was a loyal Conservative who cut his teeth as an organizer for Mulroney in Quebec, Nolin had an independent streak. He voted against his party on a number of occasions and spoke out against Harper's doomed initiative to turn the appointed upper house into an elected chamber.
Nolin also bucked the Tory tide in 2002 when he chaired a special Senate committee that recommended legalizing marijuana.