Canada Says Goodbye to Jack Layton

On August 22, Canada woke up to the news that Jack Layton had passed away early that morning. After successfully beating prostate cancer, Layton had temporarily stepped down as leader of the party in order to battle another type of cancer. Unfortunately, this time he did not pull through.

The charismatic politician and leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) had captured the hearts of Canadians, and especially Quebecers, as he campaigned across the country in the Spring of 2011.  His successful campaign allowed his party to gain a historic rise in seats (from 37 to 103).

Over the course of the week, Canadians across the country have been remembering Layton, celebrating his life, mourning his passing, and looking forward with love, optimism and hope. Click through to see and read about the ways Canadians have been commemorating Layton’s life over the past week, culminating with his funeral today at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall.

Photo credit: Annie Urban

Flags were at half mast across the country this week, including these ones in Dieppe Park in Windsor.  The flag on the Peace Tower of Canada’s Parliament Building was at half mast all week, where it remained until Layton’s funeral on Saturday.


Photo credit: Andrea_44 on flickr

Layton was an avid cyclist and supporter of cycling and his supporters took the time to commemorate him on Toronto’s bike paths this week.

Layton, and his wife Olivia Chow, could often been seen getting around on two wheels. In a letter to the Ottawa Citizen, Laura Robinson wrote about her memories of Layton and cycling: “He could be at more events than any other city politician because he knew the fastest way around Toronto was by bike,” she wrote.  She also wrote about the support that he gave to women cyclists who successfully fought for equal prize money in Toronto bike races. He was not only a supporter of cycling, but was also committed to equality for women.


Photo credit: Martinho on flickr

Before becoming a federal politician, Jack Layton had been a Toronto City Councillor for close to a decade.  When he did enter federal politics, he represented the riding of Toronto-Danforth. When news of his death spread across the city, Torontonians flocked to Nathan Phillips Square, which is located right in front of Toronto City Hall. Using chalk, people left messages commemorating Layton on the walls and the ground covering the square. Jack Layton’s son Mike Layton is currently a Toronto City Councillor.


Photo credit: andreawrites on flickr

As the week progressed, the flowers, the messages and the pictures continued to pile up in places like Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square and here, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Orange, the color of the NDP, was the predominant color in the flowers and other items left behind. People even left bottles and cans of Orange Crush, in reference to the crush that Canadians had developed on Layton and the NDP.


Photo credit: Annie Urban

Many people, in written messages, as well as on radio call-in shows across the country, said that they voted for the first time in this Spring’s election. Many of them, including youth and older Canadians who had never voted before, said that Layton was the reason they started voting.


Photo credit: CreARTiveME on flickr

In his hometown of Hudson, Quebec, people remembered the impact Layton had on their town during his youth. At city hall, the flags few at half mast and there was a book of condolences for residents to sign. According to a list of Layton’s accomplishments at, he was President of the Student Council at Hudson High School and led a bid to establish a youth center in Hudson. In the 1967 Hudson High School yearbook, students left messages starting with “I leave…”. Layton’s message read “I leave to become Prime Minister,” a goal he had never been closer to than this year.

According to the CBC, a portion of Layton’s ashes will be returned to Hudson, Quebec and buried under a memorial tree at the Wyman Memorial United Church Cemetery.


Photo credit: Annie Urban

On Wednesday, August 24 and Thursday, August 25, Layton’s casket lay in state at the Parliament Building in Ottawa. Thousands of Canadians passed through to pay their respects and express their condolences to Layton’s wife, fellow NDP Member of Parliament, Olivia Chow.

On Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm, a brief ceremony was held as Layton left Parliament Hill for the last time. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers carried Layton’s casket out of the Parliament buildings as the cannons fired a 15-gun salute.  Once Layton’s casket was placed in the hearse, the bells on the Peace Tower rang out Canada’s National Anthem, followed by John Lennon’s Imagine and finally the Dominion March, composed by Layton’s great-grandfather.

Canadians crowded onto the grounds to watch the ceremony. NDP Members of Parliament (MPs), as well as Layton’s family, stood on the steps of the Parliament buildings as the Peace Tower bells sounded. Senior NDP MPs, including interim leader Nycole Turmel, as well as Libby Davies and Paul Dewar were standing in the front row.

Once the ceremony was complete, the procession left for Toronto via a brief detour through Gatineau, Quebec.


Photo credit: Annie Urban

After leaving Ottawa, Layton’s casket was transported to Toronto where Layton lay in state at Toronto City Hall on Friday and on Saturday morning.

Early Saturday afternoon, Layton’s casket was transported in a procession from city hall to Roy Thompson Hall, the location of the funeral. People lined the streets as the procession went by and, as Sandi Benitah noted on twitter, people could hear the “bike bells ring in unison as funeral cars go by.” Layton’s wife Olivia Chow and Layton’s children and their spouses walked along behind the hearse as it wound through the streets of Toronto on this very hot and sunny afternoon.

The state funeral for Layton was held Saturday afternoon at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. In addition to dignitaries and family members, 600 members of the public were able to attend the service. The service was also broadcast in David Pecaut Square to a large crowd of people, as well as to several other locations where the public could gather. NDP supporters in the Ottawa area were invited to a special viewing of the funeral at Canada’s Parliament Buildings.

The funeral included an Aboriginal blessing by Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of First Nations of Canada, a performance by Stephen Page (formerly of the Barenaked Ladies) and a eulogy by former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, among others.


Image credit: Vicky Smallman

Even as we grieve, we need to look deep and find hope. This message was clear in Jack Layton’s letter to Canadians, which Stephen Lewis characterized as a manifesto for social democracy. Lewis noted that what Layton wanted more than anything was a more generous Canada.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” – Jack Layton (1950 – 2011)

Layton’s children, Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton and Stephen Lewis Foundation employee Sarah Campbell, his wife and Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, along with all Canadians, will be left to carry out this vision, with gusto.


Photo credit: matttjiggins on flickr


Jo Zee
Jo Zimny4 years ago

Even though I never met Jack Layton I heard such good things about him and what he wanted for Canada. I was saddened to hear of his death in the wee hours of August 22, 2011. It was a doubly sad day for me as my father too passed away at the same time on the same day. Two fine men gone but not forgotten and in good company :)

Judith Howard
Judith Howard5 years ago

I met Jack at an animal welfare benefit a few years ago. I remember him as a kind and compassionate man. To leave this world a better place and to be fondly remembered, respected and loved by many is indeed incredible. RIP, Jack. You will be missed. Fondly remembered.

Patrick F.
Patrick f.5 years ago

Anyone who read the opinion in August 30 Province newspaper would be bothered by the disrespectful way Robert Fulford of the National Post dragged Jack Layton's name through the mud just as an opportunity to bash the NDP. I was more like disgusting. Won't ever buy or read those 2 publications ever again.

Marg Wood
Marg W.5 years ago

An American friend of mine remarked on a post I made "The loss of a great Canadian." She said it should have been "The loss of a great Man" "A human being like this belongs to everyone."

rose Fr

He was a man you could believe in. A leader for your everyday Canadian. He was definitely taken too soon. Rest in peace Mr. Layton. Thank you.

Fen Drayton
Fen Drayton5 years ago

Robert O...When the day comes that you are fit to shine the shoes of a man like Jack Layton, there will be two moons in the sky. He was a man who was GENUINE. He didn't put on a face for ANYBODY, and meant what he said, and said what he meant. He SHOULD have been proud of the man he saw in the mirror, but instead, he saw a man who had to try a little harder, and not give up the fight YET, coz there was still SOMEONE who needed someone in their corner. Maybe that is what YOU should try Robert O....befriend someone who is a complete stranger and one who has no way to reward you except with gratitude. From reading your comments, you will NEVER fill his footsteps, never mind his boots.

Marg Wood
Marg W.5 years ago

continued "Laking in empathy!"

Marg Wood
Marg W.5 years ago

Just a Politician? A politician who created the white ribbon campaign to end violence against women that spread around the world. A politician who actually helped real people in trouble and spread good will to everyone around him and beyond. What contribution have you made Robert O. Spreading hate is not a contribution. I am so glad your are outnumbered but the caring people here that know what a great man Jack was.
Defination of a sociopath,

Patrick F.
Patrick f.5 years ago

Thank you Linda for all the examples of Jack's work and accomplishments. Maybe Robert O. can use it to learn to read.

James Athey
James Athey5 years ago

We will all miss you Jack! there's no doubt about that