Jack Layton departed from Parliament Hill for the last time Thursday afternoon, his flag-draped casket driven away as a crowd of Canadians applauded and bade him farewell.

The late NDP leader was given a 15-gun salute as his casket was carried down the front steps under the Peace Tower, with his wife, Olivia Chow, his two children, Michael and Sarah, and other family members following behind.

The family stood on the steps as Layton's casket was put in the hearse while O Canada played on the Peace Tower carillon. The crowd watching from behind a fence quietly sang the last few lines, then broke into applause.

Imagine and Dominion March, composed by Layton's great-grandfather, were also played.

Standing near the family were NDP MPs and staff, many of whom were weeping as the scene unfolded before them.

When the family first arrived on Parliament Hill Thursday, they spent several minutes at the makeshift tribute to Layton on the lawn. Chow, her mother, Layton's children and their partners, his siblings and other close relatives and friends read some of the handwritten notes and cards. Sarah picked up one of the many orange flowers laid there and gave it to her daughter, Layton's beloved granddaughter, Beatrice.

Once the motorcade pulled away from Parliament Hill, the procession made its way across a bridge over the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Que. An NDP supporter released 61 doves from in front of the Museum of Civilization, one for every year of Layton's life. A group of NDP staffers, museum staff, and others clapped when the motorcade passed.

The procession crossed over into Quebec to acknowledge Quebecers' support and affection for Layton, particularly in last spring's federal election. The NDP jumped from one seat in the province to 59.

Layton also has deep roots in Quebec – he was born in Montreal and grew up in Hudson, Que., and his father represented a Quebec riding in the House of Commons.

Layton's final farewell on Parliament Hill got an early start Thursday morning. The lineup of people waiting to pay their respects began ahead of schedule at 8:30 a.m. ET.

It was the second day of public visitation for the late NDP leader, who was lying in state in the foyer of the House of Commons. More than 2,500 are estimated to have paid their respects Thursday.

NDP MP Paul Dewar said as he watched Layton leave Parliament Hill he had flashbacks of his political career and remembered all the fun times they had over the years.

Dewar said he was also thinking of Chow and the family, saying they have been "rock solid" this week.

He said the outpouring of support and crowds gathered Thursday have helped Layton's family, and his extended NDP family, cope with their loss.

"It was really quite inspiring to see people break out in applause and in song. It was so Canadian, eh?" he said. 

Speaking in Yellowknife, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he wasn't surprised by the public reaction to Layton's death.

"Part of the reason I declared this to be a state funeral is my belief that Mr. Layton is an important political figure. Obviously very well known and liked, widely liked by the Canadian people – including by people who did not vote for him," he said.

"In a sense, as happy as you can be under these circumstances, I'm delighted to see that Canadians are taking this opportunity to express their gratitude and to honour Mr Layton's contribution and his passing."

Harper cut short his Arctic trip so he can be in Toronto for the funeral on Saturday. He says he and his wife, Laureen, "will be honoured to attend."

'Twinkle in his eye'

Jan Rourke was the second person in line for the public visitation Thursday, said she wanted to pay tribute to the inspiration Layton provided to Canadians.

"I'm remembering the moments that you'd see the twinkle in his eye when he was enjoying what he was doing – which was most of the time – whether it was arguing in the House or meeting with the people," she said.

Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada, and Kevin Page, Parliament's budget officer, were among those who attended the visitation. The House of Commons pages went as a group, dressed in their black uniforms.

Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian who had to fight to be released when he was imprisoned and tortured in Syria after Sept. 11, 2001, took his son to pay their respects Thursday morning. Arar's wife, Monia, and their daughter went Wednesday. Arar says he thought it was important the whole family went.

"I think I came to honour a great leader, a great politician, but before all I came to honour a great human being," Arar told CBC News on Parliament Hill Thursday. "And I think Canada lost a great leader at the time when it was needed the most. And that's why I came here."

"Jack was a human being who cared about others, as we all know. You all know that him and Alexa [McDonough] and other NDP family members have spoken on my behalf when I was in Syria so I will always remember that. I will never forget."

An estimated 10,000 people had stopped to see Layton's flag-draped casket Wednesday, which sits on nearly the exact spot where he used to take reporters' questions when he left the Commons' chamber. Heritage Canada revised an earlier estimate and said approximately 1,000 people per hour paid their respects throughout the day.

Layton's current and former MP colleagues, dignitaries, and staff from the NDP visited the foyer, then Canadians waited in a line until past 9 p.m. to say farewell. The doors of Parliament Hill stayed open until the last person had paid their respects, close to 10 p.m.

From the Hill to City Hall

From Gatineau, Layton's casket will travel to Toronto City Hall where it is expected to arrive at 9:45 p.m. Toronto city police officers will guard it overnight.

Dignitaries will have an opportunity to view Layton lying in repose at 8 a.m. Friday, then the doors will open to the public after an hour. The visitation ends at 8 p.m. and begins again Saturday at 9 a.m.

Those wishing to pay their respects at City Hall will have until 11 a.m. and then dignitaries will have another private visitation opportunity for one hour.

Layton's family will have a chance to spend time alone before his state funeral begins at 2 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall, just a few blocks away from City Hall.

Roy Thomson Hall holds 2,500 people and an estimated 1, 700 people will be invited guests. The remaining spots will be open for the public. Details on the guest list and program are yet to be released.

Officials are planning on setting up four large screens outside Roy Thomson Hall to accommodate the overflow.

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