Thousands of Toronto mourners honour Layton

Thousands of dignitaries, local politicians and members of the public have filed past the casket of Jack Layton, as the late NDP leader lies in repose at Toronto City Hall a day before his state funeral.

Thousands of dignitaries, local politicians and members of the public have filed past the casket of Jack Layton, as the late NDP leader lies in repose at Toronto City Hall a day before his state funeral.

By mid-day Friday, there were well over a thousand people — many wearing NDP orange — standing in a line that snaked around the outside of city hall. Many people had lined up for hours before doors were opened to the public around 9 a.m. ET, waiting to pay their respects and sign a book of condolences.

The visitation closed for the night at 9 p.m., with Toronto police providing a vigil guard. More than 6,000 people passed through city hall during the day, CBC reporter Steven D'Souza said.

More than 10,000 people paid tribute to Layton as he lay in state in Ottawa Wednesday and Thursday, and there will be one final chance for people to pay their respects between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday in Toronto — the adopted hometown where Layton lived for decades as an activist, city councillor and MP.

One of those waiting outside was Valerie Shearman, a singer and community leader. She told CBC News that she jammed with Layton in the past and decided to come with a few kids to sing a song that Layton loved: This Land Is Your Land.

"He was a musician at heart," she said.

Annelien Van Velzen and her adult daughter, Lina, also waited to pay tribute. She said they had a special reason for coming today. Her husband died of cancer at age 62, loved biking, and had an uncanny resemblance to Layton.

"So we're here for two people," said Lina. "Nothing could keep us away from here today," added Annelien.

The visitation started with dignitaries and VIPs at 8 a.m. They included Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who sat beside Layton during some of his city council days. Ford visited the flag-draped casket accompanied by Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair saluted the coffin. Former Toronto mayor David Miller placed his hand on the casket.

Ford said that while he and Layton rarely agreed on the political issues, he learned a lot from Layton as a young councillor.

"He used to encourage me," Ford told reporters before walking through Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall to read some of the messages that have been written in chalk on the cement since Layton's death.

The first four people stand in line for Jack Layton's funeral Friday afternoon outside Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. (Patrick Morrel/CBC)

Layton's widow Olivia Chow, his daughter Sarah and son Mike, who is a city councillor, were there to greet the VIPs. Later, they met with the crowd outside to thank them.

Toronto residents' affection for Layton has been clear since his death, with tributes and well-wishers leaving flowers and mementoes at Layton's constituency office, his home, and at city hall — where a single chalk message scrawled on the concrete wall of a raised walkway became a large-scale memorial, with hundreds of messages written in chalk.

Dozens of people, many ringing bells or honking the horns on their bicycles, were on hand as the hearse arrived at Toronto City Hall late Thursday. They broke into spontaneous applause and cheered and the motorcade slowed to a halt, and again when a Toronto police honour guard carried Layton's coffin into city hall.

Amid the applause some were heard shouting "we love you, Jack," and "welcome home."

The city's CN Tower will be lit in orange from sundown Saturday until sunrise Sunday in honour of the late NDP leader.

Layton's Toronto relationship began in the 1970s

Layton, a Montreal native, came to Toronto as a young man in the 1970s to earn his master's degree in political science at York University, later taking a teaching position at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute,now Ryerson University.

CBC live coverage Saturday

CBC News has live coverage Saturday of the state funeral for Jack Layton.

CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge hosts a live special on CBC Television, CBC News Network and streaming on CBCNews.ca, beginning at 1 p.m. ET with the procession through the streets of Toronto from city hall to Roy Thomson Hall.

Alison Smith, Michael Enright and Chris Hall lead live coverage on CBC Radio One beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Coverage will be available through CBC News' mobile site and apps, and on-demand as well at CBCNews.ca.

He was first elected to office as a Toronto city alderman in November 1982, and won a seat in the first election for the newly minted Metropolitan Toronto Council in 1985. After an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1991 and losing a federal election campaign in 1993 in the north Toronto riding of Rosedale, he was re-elected to Toronto's city council in 1994, and again in 1997.

After winning the leadership of the federal NDP in 2003, he became MP for Toronto-Danforth in 2004, a position he held until his death. His wife represents the federal Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina for the New Democrats.

Chow,  Ford and provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath met Layton's flag-draped casket as the motorcade arrived at city hall at about 9:45 p.m. Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, the hearse left Parliament Hill, also to the applause of a gathered crowd. The cortege made a brief detour to city hall in Gatineau, Que., for a symbolic nod to his province of birth, before making the trip to Toronto.

Funeral Saturday

A procession will take Layton's casket from Toronto City Hall to Roy Thomson Hall sometime after 11 a.m. Saturday for the state funeral. The hearse will be escorted by Toronto police on horseback.

The funeral will start at 2 p.m. About 800 seats inside the hall will be open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

Members of the public are being told to line up on King Street West outside Roy Thomson Hall. Rick Harrison from the High Park area of Toronto was the first to arrive at 1:15 p.m. He was also first in line at city hall for the viewing Friday morning. Harrison said he went home after he paid his respects, had a nap, and came back to lead his second line of the day. About 15 people had joined him by mid-evening.

Harrison said he prefers to call the last week a celebration of the NDP leader's life.

Jack would have wanted it that way," he said.

At 8 a.m. on Saturday, bracelets will be given to the first 600 people. Bracelet holders will then be able to return at noon to get their tickets.

Four large video screens will be set up in David Pecaut Square, to the west of Roy Thomson Hall, for overflow crowds.

A total of 1,700 seats in the hall are reserved for members of Layton's family, politicians and invited guests.

Traffic disruptions

Road closures are planned in Toronto Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. in the area bounded by Bay Street to the east, Queen Street West to the north, Wellington Street to the south, and John Street to the west.

Toronto police are asking people to consider using the TTC if they plan to travel into the downtown core.

Some of the guests expected to attend include:

  • Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife, Sharon
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen
  • Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.
  • Interim Bloc Québécois leader Louis Plamondon.
  • Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
  • Former Liberal leaders Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion.
  • Former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.
  • Former prime minister Paul Martin.
  • Former prime minister Jean Chrétien.
  • Former NDP leaders Alexa McDonough and Ed Broadbent.

Several people are expected to give eulogies, including Stephen Lewis, the former Ontario NDP leader famous for his activism on social justice issues, and Layton's children, Michael and Sarah.

McDonough, Broadbent and Doer are among the 16 honorary pallbearers.

Lorraine Segato, of the group Parachute Club, will sing Rise Up; Quebec singer Martin Deschamps will perform his song C'est beau le monde; and former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page will sing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

Layton's body will be cremated and his ashes will be spread in three different locations in the coming days:

  • Wyman United Church cemetery in Hudson, Que, where his father and maternal grandparents are buried.
  • Toronto Island, where he and Chow were married.
  • St. James' Cemetery in Toronto.

At the Quebec and Toronto Island locations, his ashes will spread where a memorial tree is planted.

With files from The Canadian Press