I wasn’t always the greatest fan of Jack Layton’s decisions as leader of the NDP but that never stopped me from admiring the man. He was likeable, dammit, and in an honest way. Not something I usually say about a politician. No matter what stickiness he might have to throw himself into, he was Canadian through and through.
My personal dealings with Jack were few. He came to the door campaigning at a friend’s house while I was in the back eating chili. I’m pretty sure he was wandering around Taste of the Danforth one time I was there as well. But what I’ll always remember is the East York Canada Day Parade.
Up until this year, without fail, he’d march in our rinky dink parade up Woodbine Avenue. The leader of the NDP would make sure to walk (or bike) along side the Cub Scouts and Shriners up to the park where he’d talk to anyone who wanted to. He didn’t stay in Ottawa or find a bigger celebration in town to go to; he stayed with the people who had shown their support for him in the first place. I respected the hell out of him for that.
And now that Jack’s gone it’s easy to see why Nathan Phillips Square has become a makeshift shrine to him. Everyone like me who’d never spoken to him, but always had something to say has come out to finally get it off their chest. Everyone who already had a connection with him did so too. Every inch of our city hall courtyard is covered in messages to Jack, his family and other hope filled Canadians.
It’s been a while now since the first messages appeared and they’ve dulled in the sun and the rain. At first they’re barely visible until your eyes adjust to it. Then, as you walk up the ramp to overlook the entire square it sinks in. Thousands of messages and drawings stretch everywhere you can see. It’s overwhelming.
I’ve rarely felt such sadness and such joy at the same time. This city isn’t exactly known for it’s spontaneous comraderie, but when we come together it’s amazing.
It fills me with hope, just as Jack said:
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.