The Honourable Jack Layton (1950-2011)

Life History

Jack Layton (John Gilbert "Jack" Layton) was born on July 18, 1950 in Montreal and raised in Hudson, Quebec.

His father, Robert Layton, was a consulting engineer and had joined the Liberal Party for twenty years until Prime Minister Trudeau patricated the Constitution without the agreement of Quebec in 1982 (Note: Patrication is a Canadian term when the British parliament transferred the power to amend the constitution to Canada). He quit the Liberal Party and later ran in the 1984 federal election under the banner of the Progressive Conservative Party. The conservatives won the election. He became a cabinet minister in the government of Brain Mulroney and a caucus chair of the conservatives. He retired in 1993 and died in 2002.

Hudson is a well-off Anglophone community outside Montreal. Jack excelled in school: a swimming champion, the president of student's association, and presidents of many groups. As an adolescent, he began to show his challenge to the establishment on inequalities of the haves and the have-nots.

Jack was a man in a hurry. At just 20, he married his high school sweetheart Sally Halford whom he knew since childhood. In 1970, Jack graduated from McGill University with a bachelor degree and a brother of Sigma Chi fraternity. With the advice of Charles Taylor, a professor and scholar, Jack went to Toronto to carry on his postgraduate study in political science in University York. He received from York a master degree in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1983. He became a faculty member at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in 1974.

In the left-leaning political science department at York, he campaigned for Michael Goldrick in Toronto municipal election in 1972. Even before Jack finished his doctorate, he ran for city councillor in 1982. After 14 years, his marriage ended in divorce and he was responsible to support two young children, Sarah and Mike. At an age of 34, he finally became a Toronto city councillor. In 1985, Jack met Olivia Chow at a fund-raising event; they married in July 1988. Olivia later joined Jack as a councillor in the city council.

In 1990s, Jack unsuccessfully ran for Toronto Mayor and twice for federal elections. Nevertheless, he never gave up trying. His breakthrough came in 2000, when he was elected the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Then, he won the leadership of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 2003, without himself having a seat in the federal parliament. He subsequently won the seat of the Toronto-Danforth riding in the general election and became a member in the House of Commons in 2004. Soon, Olivia joined him as the elected member of parliament of the Toronto Trinity-Spadina riding in 2006. Under his keen political acumen and leadership, NDP grew quickly. The number of NDP seats was 13 at the start, 29 in 2006, 37 in 2008, and 103 in 2011 when NDP became the Official Opposition in Canadian Parliament.

In 2010, Jack was announced diagnosed of prostate cancer, though he did not give up hope. His father had also prostate cancer but lived for another ten years, and Oliver had thyroid cancer in 2000 but now leads an active political life. Unfortunately, he lost his battle against cancer; he died on August 22 at home in Toronto.

In an unusual precedent, Prime Minister Harper gave Jack a state funeral. The funeral events started on August 24 at a public viewing in the foyer of House of Commons in Ottawa and moved to another public viewing in the rotunda of Toronto City Hall. The final memorial service ended on August 27 at the Roy Thomson Hall of Toronto. Surprisingly, Canadians showed a rare outburst of emotions in these events. Tens of thousands appeared and quietly queued for hours to view the casket at the foyers and stood for equally long hours to see and cheer a glimpse of the funeral possession.

In the televised memorial service, 1700 invited guests and 600 public members packed in the auditorium of Roy Thomson Hall. The guests included many prominent Canadian figures and dignitaries, such as Prime Minister Harper and ex-Prime Minister Jean Chretien. A very huge crowd also gathered in front of several large video screens outside the building to watch the service. Afterwards, a hearse carried the casket with Jack's body to an unannounced destination. Jack was believably cremated after the state funeral.


Last Message

Only days before his death, Jack Layton wrote a letter addressed to all. The following are parts of his letter:

"To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future."

"And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world's environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don't let them tell you it can't be done."


A short clip of Jack's appearance in the Good Friday parade in Toronto, 2011

Slide Show

Some Jack's photos previously posted in the Web site of Gordon's Corner of Arts and Nature [ click here ]


The following are some condolence messages posted in the Book of Condolences in the Government of Canada's official web site (www.commemoration.gc.ca) for State Funerals in Canada:

"À l'épouse de M. Layton, Olivia et sa famille, j'offre mes plus sincères condoléances. Nous perdons tous, un grand homme et un ami pour certains... Dieu bénisse sa famille et les gardent sous son aile. Au revoir Jack...tu resteras à jamais dans ma mémoire, moi qui auparavant, ne s'intéressait jamais à la politique, tu as changé ma facon de voir... Sincères condoléances à tous éprouvé par cette perte. Bon courage Olivia."
Christiane B. Pothier

"It is very sad we have lost someone, too soon, who had so much promise to bring hope and unity to Canada and in the process continue to be a normal down to earth human being."
Evelyn Fontaine

"Thank you Mr. Layton for being kind, brave, honourable, funny, determined, and caring. It is said that those who touch our hearts stay in them forever - Jack touched so many hearts that he will never be forgotten. A true gentleman who served and loved our Canadian family. My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Layton's family and friends. "Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone: Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own." (Adam Lindsay Gordon)."
Donna Parker

"Although not a supporter of the NDP, I believe Mr. Layton has shown this country what it means to be Canadian. He only wanted the best for this country and he endevoured to do his best for all of us. I think we can all learn a positive lesson from Mr. Layton and we should follow his example. Thank you Mr. Layton for your contribution to this country and your love of the same. My condolences to his family and friends. Canada has lost one of it's brightest lights."
Steven Barnes

"My condolences to Ms. Chow, the Layton children and their families. Jack will be very much missed by people all over Canada. Thank-you, Jack, for your contributions to a better Canada".
Brian MacDonald

"My condolences to Mr. Layton's wife, Olivia, and his family. We have lost a great man and a leader. Even though I did not vote for NDP in May's election, I believed he and NDP were on an important route to balance the extremities for Canada in this unsettled time. I admire what Jack had already accomplished and his courage at his final moment in this world."
Gordon Li

My Memory of Jack Layton

I did not know Jack Layton at a personal level, though I got learned to know him through public events, particularly when I lived in the before-amalgamated city of Toronto. I lived in the area of Highpark and Parkdale, a mixed neighbourhood with many Polish and Ukrainian residents. The area is nearby to the Spadina and Trinity area of large Italian and Chinese population. Jack's wife Oliver Chow was the city councillor and now the MP of Spadina and Trinity district. Every year, there are the multi-cultural CHIN Picnic and the Good Friday Parade organized by the Italian Church of Assisi. Of course, there is the China Town in Spadina. Between the years, I often went to the CHIN Picnic and watched the Good Friday Parade, where I saw Jack and Oliver. My other loosely link was connected with the 2006 Toronto municipal election when I was assigned as deputy returning officer at a poll in Spadina. Nevertheless, I was impressed by Jack's friendly and warm image in these public events and reinforced by his forceful and charismatic communication over the television. So, I had imagined someday I might vote for him in a federal election.

Gordon Li, Ph.D.



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