The goodbyes to Jack Layton, both public and private

Mitchel Raphael on the goodbyes to Jack Layton, both public and private
Photographs by Mitchel Raphael

‘I’ll call you’

At this year’s Toronto Pride parade on July 3, Rev. Brent Hawkes’s Metropolitan Community Church contingent was several groups ahead of the NDP. His group got to the end of the route and then Hawkes waited to watch the rest of the parade. When Jack Layton, who was being pulled in a rickshaw, spotted him, he gave him the sign for “I’ll call you.” The two met soon afterwards. It turned out Layton wanted to plan for the possibility of his death and asked Hawkes to officiate at his funeral. The gay pastor, who helped lead the crusade for same-sex marriage in Canada, was humbled. “You can get the head of the United Church. You could get a bishop,” Hawkes told Layton. The NDP leader insisted he wanted Hawkes. It would be a strong political statement. Hawkes notes that his friend “wasn’t afraid to embrace the edges of our community.” Layton, after all, is the politician who once had towels printed up promoting one of his early municipal campaigns; they were handed out in gay bathhouses.

She sang it at their wedding

Jack Layton died on Aug. 22 at 4:45 a.m. At 6:30 a.m. that day, former Parachute Club singer Lorraine Segato got the call requesting she perform her famous ’80s song Rise Up at the funeral. It was the song she had sung at Layton and Olivia Chow’s wedding in 1988. “They were both really partying with us on Queen Street in the early eighties,” recalls Segato. In 2004 at the Juno Awards in Edmonton, Segato arranged for Layton to meet the performers backstage. “He partied with us until three in the morning.” A few weeks later, Layton would be in full election mode.

Svend says goodbye

When former NDP MP Svend Robinson saw the July 25 press conference at which Jack Layton looked so gravely ill, he immediately flew to Toronto from Geneva, Switzerland, where he works for the Global Fund. Robinson wanted to spend time with his friend. When he returned to Toronto a second time for the funeral, Jack’s son, Mike Layton, met Robinson at the airport and took him late on the Friday night before the funeral to Toronto City Hall for a private viewing of the casket.

Public displays of affection

In the square outside Toronto’s City Hall, where Layton served as a city councillor for many years, NDP MPs gathered to see the huge tributes and massive chalk displays of affection for their former leader. Paul Dewar said he had never seen so many pop cans at a memorial, referring to the Orange Crush cans that were embedded with notes and the flowers. Many MPs, including Olivia Chow, talked to the line of mourners that wrapped around City Hall. In Ottawa, Toronto NDP MP Dan Harris walked the entire line of people waiting to show their final respects to thank them all. It look him 4½ hours. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the first Tamil elected to Parliament, organized hundreds of Tamils who sported orange T-shirts to honour Layton in front of Toronto City Hall. When northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus saw the mass of orange, he quipped: “I think Rathika’s got me beat. I just brought six people from Timmins.”

A shot of Jack

At the funeral service for Jack Layton at Roy Thomson Hall, choir members dabbed their eyes with tissue and the violinists and cellists tapped their bows on their music stands often during the speeches. NDP MP Bruce Hyer was on a canoe trip and out of electronic communication range when news of Layton’s death broke. His staffer was waiting at the end of the trail and got him to Toronto pronto for the funeral. Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth wore a bright orange top in honour of Layton. Former NDP leaders Alexa McDonough, Audrey McLaughlin and Ed Broadbent also attended, as did former Speaker Peter Milliken. Most people, including Olivia Chow, were still calling him Mr. Speaker. The day of the funeral ended with NDP MPs, staffers and friends gathering at the Berkeley, an old church converted into an event hall. Newly elected NDP MP and musician Andrew Cash played a set that got the crowd rocking. Throughout the hall folks could be heard saying, “Let’s do a shot of Jack.”