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Final tribute to Jack Layton celebrates his message of hope, optimism

The casket containing Jack Layton is carried away during his state funeral in Toronto.

Chris Wattie/Chris Wattie/Reuters

Jack Layton's friends and supporters paid him fitting tribute Saturday afternoon. But again and again, his loved ones urged mourners to move on in his spirit, issuing a call to build real change out of his legacy.

That was Mr. Layton's wish, planned before he succumbed to cancer in the early hours of Monday morning. And it came through loud and clear from his wife, Olivia Chow, who was not among the service's eulogists but appeared instead in a video tribute played during the ceremony.

"Yeah I'm sad, we're sad. But let us not look behind us, let us look forward," Ms. Chow said in the video, while she watched from the front row. "I think that's a good way to celebrate his life."

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As much as ever, crowds followed the late NDP leader's message of hope and optimism, both figuratively and literally. Groups of mourners ran alongside the hearse carrying his casket as it moved through downtown Toronto, led by a brigade of pipers and flag-bearers.

They came in droves, many dressed in orange, and cheered him as he went. Some wore "Thank You Jack" t-shirts, and others carried treasured objects Mr. Layton had given them years earlier.

Inside Roy Thomson Hall, some 1,700 invited guests and dignitaries and another 600 members of the public applauded gently as the casket was carried in.

The ceremony began in sombre fashion, and never lacked for tears. But it had moments of laughter as well, beginning with officiant Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes pointing out his robes were red, not orange. Mr. Layton's daughter Sarah rhymed off a list of ways her father had charmingly embarrassed his family - including "your fashion sense in those early years".

Those in attendance at the funeral routinely rose to their feet for a series of standing ovations. And the ceremony was full of music – one of Mr. Layton's passions – starting with a movement of G.F. Handel's Messiah through a sparing but moving rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" sung by Steven Page. Singer Lorraine Segato's performance of "Rise Up" had spectators dancing outside in David Pecaut Square.

Stephen Lewis, who gave the first of three passionate eulogies, noted the way Mr. Layton died – "so suddenly gone, cruelly gone, at the pinnacle of his career."

"Jack simply radiated an honesty," Mr. Lewis said, something "we've been thirsting for."

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The service also paid tribute to Mr. Layton's trademark stubbornness in pursuing his favourite causes, from homelessness and environmentalism to gay rights and HIV/AIDS campaigns. His son, Toronto city councillor Mike Layton, recalled his father's refusal to turn back on disastrous father-son biking and sailing trips.

"This is how my father lived his whole life. ... He'd pour everything into achieving a goal," the younger Mr. Layton said. "'You can wait until you have perfect conditions,' he said, 'or you can make the best of what you've got now."

Several of Mr. Layton's political allies and opponents noted the spirit of the occasion had allowed old foes to stand together.

Dr. Hawkes tearfully recounted sitting with Mr. Layton the night before he died, and hearing the politician profess that "I've had a great and blessed life, but it has been far from perfection – I have made some mistakes."

"He was in awe of the trust given to him of late," when voters launched him into the Official Opposition in Parliament, Dr. Hawkes said.

But Mr. Layton also wanted desperately to help bring about an inclusive movement that would make Canada a more generous place, Dr. Hawkes said. Differing opinions would be welcome, but people would work with respect, with optimism in the face of defeats, and assuming the good intent in each other.

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"If the Olympics can make us prouder Canadians maybe Jack's life can make us better Canadians," Dr. Hawkes said, before emerging from behind the lectern and pointing his finger at the thousands of mourners facing him.

"May we rise to the occasion, because the torch is now passed. The job of making the world a better place is up to us," Dr. Hawkes concluded.

Following cremation, Jack Layton's ashes will be spread in three different locations – one in Quebec, honouring his birthplace and site of the NDP's political breakthrough, and two in his home city of Toronto.

The late Opposition Leader's principal secretary Brad Lavigne, who is also an honourary pallbearer at Saturday's state funeral, told The Globe a portion of the ashes will be planted with a memorial tree at the Wyman United Church cemetery in Hudson, Que., where Mr. Layton grew up.

Another portion will be scattered on the Toronto Islands, where Mr. Layton and Olivia Chow were married in 1988, and where a memorial tree will also be planted. The third portion of his ashes will be buried at St. James Cemetery in the city's downtown.

After graduating from McGill in Montreal, Mr. Layton moved to Toronto to do his PhD at York University, later teaching political science at Ryerson. He served for many years as a municipal politician and was elected as the MP for Toronto-Danforth in 2004.

With a report from Jane Taber

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Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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