For decades before his gladiator jaw and chevron mustache became symbols of national significance, Jack Layton was a man of and for a single city, his cultural and political radar rarely transmitting beyond the 416.
Born in Quebec, he moved to Toronto in 1970 and quickly became one of its most recognizable figures, as much for his tireless bipedal peregrinations as for his outspoken activism. While most voters recall a spit-polished politico with a Cheshire grin and bottomless reserve of sound bites, those close to him knew a man of wide-ranging proclivities, many of which are reflected in the Toronto establishments where he preferred to unwind. “It’s hard to say he had a regular place,” says Councillor Pam McConnell, an early political ally. “Because he was always on that bike and he was everywhere. His regular place was the entire city.”
Ever the politician, a map of his haunts is also a map of the wards he and his allies dominated during his two decades at the centre of Toronto politics. Several of Mr. Layton’s friends told The Globe and Mail where some of those favourite places were.
(formerly on Elizabeth Street, now demolished)
Located half a block north of City Hall on Elizabeth Street, Foster’s was the preferred watering hole for left-leaning councillors in the eighties and nineties. While the dim bar has since been demolished – and recently replaced with a bright garden of lupines, daisies and black-eyed Susans – memories of political battles won and lost linger. “It was very much a hub for us, where a lot of plotting and scheming would take place,” said Ms. McConnell. “Jack would hold court there with political types, community activists and also with his urban-studies students.”
Ryerson and 297 Victoria St.
The former home of Ryerson’s campus radio station and its open college, 297 Victoria St. is the building where Professor Jack Layton prepared and delivered lectures over the airwaves on municipal politics. “It was where his voice first reached large numbers of Torontonians,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor who designed and taught the course on civic politics with Mr. Layton between 1978 and 1980. Prof. Siemiatycki, who remained a friend, noted Mr. Layton was a frequent visitor to campus after he moved on to politics. “The Ryerson campus meant a lot to Jack. He certainly had tremendous affection for Ryerson.”
Metropolitan Community Church
115 Simpson Ave.
Mr. Layton and church pastor Rev. Brent Hawkes have been on the same side of several prominent issues such as gay rights, health and homelessness. But beyond political solidarity, the councillor often found personal solace in the church’s work and Mr. Hawkes’ sermons. “We would spend a lot of time at the church,” said Marilyn Churley, the former councillor and MPP who will serve as a pallbearer at Mr. Layton’s funeral. “After a tough week at council, it would bring both of us great satisfaction to spend time there.” That bond will be further evidenced at Mr. Layton’s funeral today, where Mr. Hawkes is officiating.
722 Pape Ave.
Known as one of the Danforth’s best Greek restaurants, Mr. Layton was partial to the rack of lamb paired with a glass of red wine. “We’d often gather there after the Taste of the Danforth, sit back with a few platters, and have a good time,” said Peter Tabuns, the NDP MPP for Toronto-Danforth and a long-time friend of Mr. Layton’s. “We always dined well there.” The future Leader of the Opposition also did much of his shopping in the immediate area. A chronic last-minute holiday shopper, he could often be seen bounding madly from bookstore to gift shop to clothing store along the Danforth on Christmas Eve.
Pearl Court Restaurant
633 Gerrard St. E
Mr. Layton rarely missed an opportunity for dim sum (with a particular emphasis on shrimp dumplings) at the Pearl, one of the east end’s best spots for Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine. The restaurant often held fundraisers and other events for candidates and causes dear to Mr. Layton, a devotion to the city’s left that continued this week with the owner placing a book of condolence outside the front door.
Toronto Islands and the Toronto waterfront
When he did have a rare moment for pure recreation, friends say Mr. Layton relished cycling along the waterfront’s trails, even those weaving among the largely industrial Port Lands. And he maintained a strong affection for the Toronto Islands, the site of his 1988 marriage to Olivia Chow. “He’d try to get over to the islands as often as he could,” said Ms. Churley.
Allen’s and Black Swan
143 and 154 Danforth Ave.
A night owl, Mr. Layton spent many evenings at these two Danforth taverns playing professor, debater and friend. One night at the Black Swan, when Ms. Churley was lamenting a failed relationship and the lack of a new suitor, Mr. Layton piped up. “You can’t be through with men, you’re too wonderful,” he said. Then he introduced Ms. Churley to his former executive assistant at city hall, Richard Barry. The pair married two years ago and Mr. Layton was the best man. “That was the Jack most people didn’t see, the guy who, as busy as he was, always calls friends out of the blue to talk about everything but politics.”
Chinatown Karaoke bars
A musician at heart, Mr. Layton would often invite Mr. Barry and other friends over to his Huron Street house for jam sessions where he’d pound his piano and thrash an acoustic guitar late into the night. But he was also a sucker for the likes of Tony Bennett. When he and friends hit up Chinatown’s karaoke bars – and it was a regular occurrence at one point in his life – he’d inevitably belt out his signature tune, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. “And, you know, it wasn’t at all bad,” said Ms. Churley. “Music really sustained him no matter what he was going through.”
With files from Elizabeth Church