Jack Layton Funeral

Jack Layton funeral draws thousands

The first time I met Jack Layton, I asked him for a hug. "Alright," he said, brushing crumbs from his moustache. "But I might smell like pizza." With that, he shoved his pizza crust into his mouth and wrapped me in a bear hug. It was June 2009, and he had just danced for three hours atop a Pride float.

The second time I met Jack Layton, he asked me for a hug. "Pizza Girl!" he cried. "I promise I don't smell like pizza this time!" And I hugged him. It was September 2010, and he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

When I heard the news of his death on Monday morning, I was stunned. I had only met him twice, only spoken with him for maybe ten minutes in all, but that was all the time he needed to make you feel like his friend.

Saturday's state funeral and the Peoples' Procession that preceded it, were proof that I was not the only Canadian who had come to view Jack Layton as a friend. When I arrived for the procession at the north-west corner of Queen and University, a sea of orange clad mourners had already overtaken the intersection.

With a group of musicians playing samba music and stilt-walkers teetering above the crowd, the whole thing felt much more like a block party than a funeral procession. People sang, people danced. Strangers drew moustaches on one another with eyebrow pencil. It was clear that this event, which grew from a Facebook page to an official part of the funeral cortege in a matter of days, was one of celebration rather than mourning.

When the procession arrived at King St., I ducked into St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church to watch their live screening of the service. The church was packed to capacity, and the crowd punctuated the service with laughter, cheering, and applause, singing, clapping and even dancing along to musical performances by Lorraine Segato and the Metropolitan Community Church choir. It was a fitting celebration of the person eulogized by Stephen Lewis as "a lovely, lovely man."

"If the Olympics can make us prouder Canadians, perhaps Jack's life can make us better Canadians," said Rev. Brent Hawkes in his sermon. At this, the crowd inside and outside Roy Thompson Hall rose to its feet and applauded. Solemn it certainly wasn't, but I can't help but think this vibrant celebration was the best possible way to pay tribute to a man who remained loving, hopeful and optimistic until the very end.

Writing by Emma Marcon. Photo by Mauricio Calero in the blogTO Flickr pool

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