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Jack Layton has returned to Parliament, where he led his New Democratic Party to Official Opposition status, for the final time.

With a piper skirling a lament, the late NDP leader's flag-draped coffin was carried up a red carpet on the shoulders of eight scarlet-clad Mounties and into Centre Block, where it is to lie in state for two days.

Karl Belanger, Mr. Layton's long-time press secretary, said Wednesday the last few days have been exhausting and that "it's hard to grieve in public."

However, this is what Mr. Layton wanted.

While the NDP leader expressed a wish that his life be celebrated, it was a sombre time. Inside the House of Commons there was silence, save for the click of the boots from the Mounties who carried his casket.

After Mr. Layton's casket was placed in the foyer, Ms. Chow and Mr. Layton's family were given some private time before other guests began the visitation.

Former governor-general Michaelle Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond were among the first to arrive as was the Japanese Ambassador.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was also among the early guests as was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen. Mr. Harper is in the Arctic.

Ed Broadbent, Mr Layton's political mentor, was also to be one of the first to meet with Ms. Chow and the Layton family at the casket.

As Ms. Chow emerged to visit the casket by herself, she broke down as she gently patted the flag-draped coffin.

Michael Layton, his sister, Sarah, and her daughter, Beatrice, then came out to join Ms. Chow.

Governor-General David Johnston then viewed the casket with his wife, Sharon. Mr. Johnston rested his hand on the coffin for a moment, as if to say goodbye. The couple then met with Mr. Layton's family.

Mrs. Harper and Industry Minister Christian Paradis paid their respects next. Mrs. Harper held a tissue and dabbed her eyes as she spoke with Ms. Chow.

Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird appeared together, followed by MPs from all sides.

Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel and former leader Ed Broadbent paid their respects together, standing side-by-side before the casket. Mr. Broadbent stopped to give Ms. Chow a big hug and embraced each member of the family.

Mr. Layton's coffin was laid on a bier before the door of the Commons, a spot where Mr. Layton held numerous scrums with journalists over his years in Ottawa.

New Democrat MPs and staff shared tearful hugs as they waited for the it to arrive at the Peace Tower, where the flag fluttered at half-mast.

A military honour guard in red tunics and bearskin hats stood by and several hundred people watched quietly as the cortege wheeled slowly up to the Centre Block.

Mr. Layton's hearse left Toronto at 4 a.m., pulling away slowly with two Toronto Police officers on motorcycles ahead. One black car followed, from the Sherbourne Street Rosar Morrison funeral home, two small Canadian flags on either side of its hood. They turned right off of Sherbourne Street onto Wellesley Street East, seconds after leaving.

The casket, draped in a Canadian flag, was loaded into the back of the hearse one minute before 4 a.m. by a small group of people, who left from the funeral home's side door. The two police officers, who had arrived only 10 minutes before, waited for the casket to be loaded before leaving with red and blue lights flashing.

Until about 10 minutes before, the moonlit street remained quiet and only four vehicles sat in the funeral home's parking lot.

The journey began less than two days after the NDP Leader's death. The 61-year-old died on Monday, at about 4:45 a.m., following a battle with cancer.

For two days, Mr. Layton will lie in state in the House of Commons foyer where Canadians will be able to pay their respects. On Friday and Saturday, before Mr. Layton's funeral, there will also be visitation at Toronto City Hall.

Mr. Layton wanted a public funeral and a "celebration of life."

The state funeral is to be held Saturday afternoon at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall. Government officials are expecting the hall, which can accommodate 2,500 people, to be filled to capacity.

The RCMP accompanied the casket as a matter of protective policing because of the number of public figures expected, said spokesman Sgt. Richard Rollings. But he said it's about paying tribute to Mr. Layton as well.

"We mourn the loss of a man passionate about Canada and its people," Sgt. Rollings said. "I think all Canadians will."

With reports from James Bradshaw and The Canadian Press