They came wearing every shade of orange – orange T-shirts, hats, scarves, even shoes. Some came on bikes. Some brought their kids. They stood or sat in the big square outside Roy Thomson Hall, watching the funeral procession on the giant screen in rapt attention.
It was a state funeral for a man of the people – short on pomp, long on populism, carefully crafted by the man who was no longer there. It was emotional, inspiring, personal, and also deeply political. It was partly a celebration of a life well-lived, and partly a call to action. Many of the speakers talked about a different kind of politics, especially of a return to civility.
Outside in the square, people applauded that message. If there is one big lesson from Jack Layton’s death, it’s that Canadians are hungry for a more civil and constructive form of public life. They came to his funeral because Mr. Layton exemplified the best of Canada.
“We came because we want to show that people around the country still believe in what he believes, even though he’s no longer here,” one young mother said.
Inside the hall, the list of dignitaries included politicians from every party. But it was Stephen Lewis, the icon of the NDP, that people will remember. “Never was there so much love,” he said.
At first his voice shook with emotion. “Somehow Jack connected in a way that vanquishes the cynicism that corrodes our political culture.”
Then he switched into partisan mode. He referred to the extraordinary letter Mr. Layton had written on his deathbed, which was “at its heart a manifesto for social democracy.”
He invoked bike lanes, wind power and “the invaluable pillar of the public sector.” For a few moments the funeral took on the air of an NDP revival meeting. Hundreds of people in the hall applauded and leaped to their feet. Stephen Harper, the prime minister, had the good sense to stand up too. Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, the amiable minister whom Mr. Layton knew for 30 years, returned to the higher ground of hope, generosity and civility.
“Young people have said again and again that they don’t want this moment to be a fleeting moment,” he said. “When the chalk is washed away from the concrete at city hall, the legacy of Jack Layton will not be in how much power you have, but in how all of us exercise our personal power for a better world.”
Steven Page sang “Hallelujah”, beautifully. Lorraine Segato sang “Rise Up”. The Governor-General danced in the aisle. Olivia Chow looked sad and stoic and spoke, in a video, of hers and Jack’s collective vision.
“We must look forward to see what we can all accomplish together,” she said.
She left it to his children, Mike and Sarah Layton, to speak of the private man, their much-loved father. But some of the most moving words I heard were out on the square.
“I brought my son here today so that he’ll understand the values that brought us to Canada,” said a woman named Michelle, who is part of a same-sex couple. She and her family have moved here from New Zealand.
“I want my children to learn about hope, about love and about generosity,” said a father named Ken Kwan, who had his two young sons with him. “I want them to know what this country can offer.”
After the funeral, the solemn moment came when the guard of honour loaded the flag-draped coffin into the hearse. The bagpipes played, and Dr. Hawkes, the minister, held Olivia Chow’s hand.
“Goodbye Jack,” people shouted affectionately. And then he was gone.