An emotional return to Toronto for Jack Layton


TORONTO AND OTTAWA— Globe and Mail Update

He was born in Montreal and came to national prominence leading the federal NDP in Ottawa, but Toronto was Jack Layton’s home.

It was where he spent most of his political career, as a firebrand city and regional councillor, raised his family and lived for several decades.

By Friday morning, hundreds had lined up at Toronto City Hall to pay their respects to the politician, including dignitaries and members of the public who filed past his flag-draped casket.

Many of Mr. Layton's former colleagues at city hall paid their respects Friday morning, including former mayor David Miller. Layton's widow Olivia Chow, his daughter Sarah and son Mike, were there to greet the VIPs.

Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley, provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Mayor Rob Ford were also among the dignitaries to attend the visitation.

Mr. Ford said that while he and Mr. Layton rarely agreed on the politcal issues, he learned a lot from Mr. Layton as a young councillor.

“He used to encourage me,” Mr. Ford told reporters before walking through Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall to read some of the messages that have been written in chalk on the cement since Mr. Layton's death.

On Thursday night, hundreds of the city’s citizens had already gathered at Nathan Phillips Square to welcome Mr. Layton back to City Hall, where he will lie in repose until his funeral Saturday.

The crowd was hushed as Mr. Layton’s family arrived to thank well-wishers.

“I hope this will inspire you guys to come out and change our country for the better,” Councillor Mike Layton, the NDP Leader’s son, told one well-wisher. “Thank you so much; this makes it a bit easier.”

“Your dad was something so special,” Olga Sandolowich, 81, told him, before both the councillor and Mr. Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, pulled her in for a hug.

As the hearse carrying Mr. Layton’s casket pulled up to City Hall, the crowd erupted in sustained applause and rang bicycle bells.

The casket was carried inside by an honour guard of Toronto police officers, as many shouted “Thank you, Jack!” and applauded. Mr. Layton’s children, Ms. Chow, friends including Rev. Brent Hawkes and several politicians, such as Mayor Rob Ford and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, followed it inside.

The square, which has seen near-continuous vigils for Mr. Layton since his death early Monday, was covered from the reflecting pool to the front doors with chalk tributes to the late leader.

“You can rest now, Jack. We’ll take it from here,” read one message. “Thank you for giving me hope in politics,” read another. “Through these doors lies the body of a great man,” was scrawled in yellow over the entrance to City Hall.

While mourners expressed support for Mr. Layton’s political causes, they also spoke of his personality.

“He was such a natural people person,” Ms. Sandolowich said. “When he spoke, he spoke from the heart. He didn’t have notes in front of him like most politicians.”

Michel Bilodeau, 44, recalled meeting the NDP Leader: “There was no distance, no wall, between him and other people,” he said. “You can see from this display of love that I’m not the only one who felt that way.”

Mr. Layton’s body will lie in the rotunda of City Hall with an honour guard of Toronto police officers, and citizens can pay their respects between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday. At about 1 p.m. on Saturday, his coffin will be taken to Roy Thomson Hall for the funeral.

Mr. Layton’s funeral, described as a celebration of life, will be led by figures reflecting both the local and the national stages of his nearly three decades of public life.

Rev. Hawkes, a leader of Toronto’s LGBT community, will officiate; former Ontario NDP leader and United Nations diplomat Stephen Lewis will deliver the eulogy; Ed Broadbent and Alexa McDonough, who preceded Mr. Layton at the helm of the federal party, will serve as honorary pallbearers, along with former Manitoba premier Gary Doer, and Bob Gallagher, Mr. Layton’s former chief of staff.

Musical performers will include Lorraine Segato of Toronto band The Parachute Club, who will sing Rise Up; Quebec singer Martin Deschamps, and Steven Page, who lives in Mr. Layton’s east-end riding and has played at benefit concerts for the NDP and its leader.

“At the musical events I was a part of, Jack would stir up the crowd and unite them in their desire to improve themselves and the world around them,” the former Barenaked Ladies singer wrote in an online tribute to Mr. Layton this week. “Jack’s idealism was real and heartfelt.”

The multi-denominational proceedings will feature readings from Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts.

Approximately 1,700 invitations have been issued for the funeral, and some seats have been reserved for the public. The first 600 people in line by 8 a.m. on Saturday will be given bracelets that will allow them to sit inside. Screens will be set up in the adjacent David Pecaut Square for the overflow crowd.

Over the past two days, about 12,000 people filed past Mr. Layton’s flag-draped casket as it lay in state on Parliament Hill.

At around 2 p.m. on Thursday, it was carried out of the Centre Block to a 15-gun salute. The crowd waiting under bright sun burst into spontaneous applause as it came into view.

O Canada rang from the Peace Tower bells as the casket was moved to the waiting hearse. Just after that, Dominion Carillonneur Andrea McCrady played John Lennon’s Imagine on the 53 bells of the carillon.

The hearse, with a motorcycle police escort, crossed a bridge over the Ottawa River into Gatineau. It was a signal to Quebec voters, who embraced Mr. Layton’s message and brand of politics on May 2, electing 59 MPs from the province.

The procession turned into the driveway of the Museum of Civilization, directly across the river from Parliament. The crowd there, including several Quebec MPs, NDP staffers and others, also erupted into applause. Sixty-one doves, one for each year of Mr. Layton’s life, were released.

The hearse also slowed down in front of Gatineau City Hall before it crossed the bridge back into Ottawa and headed to Toronto.

With a report from James Bradshaw and The Canadian Press




Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre


Jack "The John" Layton will be remembered for his roles as Canada's greatest promoter of hatred towards fathers and his opposition to a legal presumption of equal parenting.