Following Olivia and Jack’s last walk together .. because all of us need to be able to make a difference

Aug 28th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

TORONTO. SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2011. This seems to have been a summer of pipe and drum bands in this city. We went to the Warriors’ Day Parade at the Exhibition last Saturday, to probe the impact of the new Harper conservatism on the city’s old militia culture. (Well … probably more as a sentimental journey back to the age of our parents’ youth, as the shadow of our own all-too-short time on planet earth grows longer, and longer.)  The marching music was almost all provided by pipe and drum bands — usually, it seemed, from Legion branches in one or another part of Southern Ontario.

It was another pipe and drum band yesterday (I think from the Toronto police) that told we crowds on the south side of Queen Street the funeral procession for Jack Layton would begin soon enough. The band came marching down the narrow roadway between Osgoode Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, with “Scotland the Brave” or some such thing blaring, and led by a fearsome tall pipe major in a great bearskin hat. In fact, the pipe and drum band, the five man-and-horse colour guard from the Toronto police mounted unit, and assorted similar participants, then stood aimlessly on Queen Street for a good 15 minutes or more, waiting for the hearse with Jack Layton’s Canadian-flag-draped casket, followed by his mourning family on foot.

The mourning family was led by Olivia Chow, all by herself immediately behind the hearse — and playing the part with all the panache you might expect from such a lady. Despite her own multicultural Hong Kong origins, with her arrival the pipe and drum band struck up another chthonic tune, redolent of the ancient Picts now many strata below the surface of the far northern earth across the sea, and so forth. (According to at least one source on the net: “Recorded as Layton, Laytoun, Leaton, Leighton, Leyton, and Leaton, this is a famous surname of English or sometimes Scottish, origins.”) And the funeral procession down south to Roy Thomson Hall, at the corner of King and Simcoe had begun.

The procession went a short distance west on Queen Street to University Avenue, and then south on University to King Street. As in the old days, when we followed bands all over in parades, we decided to follow Olivia and Jack’s last walk together, all the way to Roy Thomson Hall. To gain a bit on the pace of the procession, we walked quickly south on York Street to Richmond, and then west to University. We just missed the pipe and drum band again on University. But we did catch another installment of Olivia, walking sadly but with dignity, and greeted by clapping from the spectators along the route. From here, like many others, we just followed the procession, on the side of University it was not taking up.

It didn’t take long to reach Roy Thomson Hall at King and Simcoe streets, where the funeral itself was held. And there were, I would say, literally thousands on King Street in front of the Hall, where you could watch the proceedings inside on a big outdoor screen — something like the Jumbotron at the Rogers Centre (well … not quite that big in fact). We had no intention of staying for the funeral. Following the procession from City Hall had been our way of paying homage to whatever it is that everyone is paying homage to (or not), in the no doubt somewhat strange mass phenomenon of the Goodbye Jack movement — in this city at least or especially, since we awoke last Monday to the shocking news that at the youthful age of 61, he “died peacefully at 4:45 a.m. ET today at his Toronto home, surrounded by family and loved ones.”

Personally, I think the people who draw a parallel with the great Canadian case of youthful cancer victim Terry Fox — and his one-legged “Marathon of Hope” across the country — are onto something. But one clear thing is that almost everyone involved has their own reasons (including those who feel the state funeral and so forth was too much). For just a small sample from recent editions of the two oldest Toronto newspapers, see: “Layton’s death shows Canada’s hunger for politicians who inspire” ; “A poem for Jack Layton, by 14 Canadian poets” ; “Jack Layton saw the future and it was on a bicycle” ; “The day Jack Layton came to visit” ; “Layton’s legacy may be bridging the two solitudes” ; and “It’s been an extraordinary week’: Layton brought Canada together.” For some people (and again pro and con) it is all very much about politics — as Stephen Lewis’s much admired funeral eulogy finally stressed. For others it is not. I am, I think, at least quite clear about my own reasons. And they are summarized in three sentences from Jack Layton’s book, Speaking Out Louder, quoted in the original Canadian Press report on his death, last Monday: “Politics matters. Ideas matter. Democracy matters, because all of us need to be able to make a difference.” That at any rate is why I followed the funeral procession from City Hall to King and Simcoe streets, on a sunny afternoon in late August, 2011. (And if you want to know my travelling companion’s own reasons, you will have to ask her!)

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