Capital diary

Jack Layton remembered with a jack pine that leans to the left

Capital diary

Photograph by Mitchel Raphael

The Jack pine and Layton’s ashes

The late Jack Layton once asked the residents of the Toronto Islands if there would be a place there for him and his wife, Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow, when they retired. Layton was a champion of the islanders. He helped them fight efforts by the city to expropriate their homes in the 1980s. Layton and Chow, as well as Layton’s children, even house-sat for some of them over the years. When Layton died on Aug. 22, 2011, there was a flurry of emails among islanders over how to remember Layton. They decided a tree in his honour would be best and chose a Jack pine, the subject of the iconic Tom Thomson painting. The name aside, it was thought the tree symbolized Layton. The needles grow in pairs, which they said represented Layton and Chow. The cones open under extreme heat and the islanders noted that it was often the first tree to come back after a forest fire. Even after a defeat, they said, “Jack always returned with a smile.” But because the tree is quite “gnarly,” according to the islander tasked with finding the tree, and few nurseries carry them, it was quite a quest to track one down.

Last week, Chow and many members of the Layton family, including son Mike Layton, daughter Sarah Layton and granddaughters Beatrice Campbell and Solace Campbell, arrived on the island for a ceremony to mark the tree planting and the installation of a commemorative plaque. The family was greeted by a marching band and children on stilts. Islanders spoke of the fond memories they had of Layton, including how he raised money at island charity events using his well-known auctioneer skills. “He once even auctioned off his pants,” the gathering was told. “He was a serious politician, but he loved to have a good time.” The islanders said it was pure coincidence that when you face the plaque and look at the tree it leans to the left. The ceremony included a small sprinkling of Layton’s ashes under the tree. Some of Layton’s ashes were also scattered in a family plot in his hometown of Hudson, Que., last October. His remaining ashes will be placed at the Toronto Necropolis on Aug. 22.

Saving Leo Tolstoy

When Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies cleaned out some old books, her partner, Kim Elliott, went on a rescue mission. “The box of books was on the steps for the Canadian Diabetes Association,” says Davies. Elliott saw two books Davies had from her youth. One was Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which Davies read at 13. The book was an old paperback with the cover long gone. Davies says if she ever chose to read it again, she would just get a new copy. The other book was Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Davies is a huge fan of Tolstoy, in part because the 19th-century novelist helped finance the Doukhobors, a group of Christian pacifists living in Russia, so they could come to Canada. Davies has met several of the descendents of the Doukhobors who ended up settling in British Columbia. She also admired the way Tolstoy renounced his aristocracy, as well as his outreach to the serfs. In a way, she says, he reminded her of Jack Layton, who came from a privileged family but worked for the common person. Both books are back on her shelf—for now.

Teapot beats Peter MacKay

Last year, Defence Minister Peter MacKay came in first at the lobster-banding contest at the Pictou Lobster Carnival, an event in his Nova Scotia riding that first began in 1934. The contest is to band 12 lobsters’ claws in the fastest time. This year, MacKay finished second, with a time of one minute and 28 seconds. He was beat by local lobster fisherman Dana Johnson, a lobster-banding legend known as “Teapot,” who finished the task in just 40 seconds. Before 2011, MacKay came in first several times, but those were always years when Teapot was absent.

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