The late NDP leader now has a street named after him, in his former riding.
With a bright orange scarf tied around her neck on a blustery Sunday afternoon, Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) led a crowd of over 100 supporters at Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street in a chant that would become the theme of the hour.
“Healthcare! It’s the Jack Layton way. Equality! It’s the Jack Layton way. The environment! It’s the Jack Layton way.”
The enthused crowd huddled in front of the newly completed Bridgepoint Hospital, set to open this spring after nearly three and a half years of construction. On a hill overlooking the Don River, the Don Valley Parkway, and the rest of the city, they shared warm thoughts about the former NDP leader, who died in August 2011 after a struggle with cancer.
The occasion for this remembrance was the opening of Jack Layton Way, a new street, part of which used to be known as the Don Jail Roadway. It leads through the Bridgepoint campus, past the old jail.
Marian Walsh, Bridgepoint’s president and CEO, announced that the new hospital and the historic penitentiary will soon be “surrounded by parkland, pathways, and user-friendly streetscapes—the Jack Layton way.”
“I want to thank everyone who did what they could to make Jack’s dream for Canada a reality, that is the Jack Layton way,” said NDP MPP Peter Tabuns.
“It’s very fitting that we have a menacing jail full of despair and fear, and have it transformed to a place where there’s healing, where there’s hope, where there’s lots of love,” said MP Olivia Chow, Layton’s widow, who was in attendance with Layton’s daughter Sarah and his son, Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina).
“That is so much the Jack Layton way,” continued Chow. “Our way, our Toronto’s way, and our country’s way.”
“Jack loved this neighbourhood, the east side, even though he occasionally lived on the west side,” Chow said. Layton would often bike or take the streetcar into Toronto-Danforth, his federal riding until his death in 2011. He had a hand in saving the Riverdale hospital (which eventually became Bridgepoint) and the Don Jail, and he also helped erect the iconic archway that signals the entry into East Chinatown.
The speeches were sentimental, but they resonated with the large group of supporters who, after the ceremonial unveiling of the first “Jack Layton Way” street sign in front of the hospital, followed two Chinese dragons on the first walk down the street.
“Jack was a pioneer in Toronto,” said Gary Gannage, who came from his home on St. Clair West to attend the ceremony. He walked along with the crowd, which included a number of children more concerned with playing with the bright orange dragon to help ring in the Chinese New Year.
Jack Layton Way is only one of several honours to have been bestowed on Layton since his death. The Toronto Island ferry terminal has been known as the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal since last summer, and a CBC biopic, Jack, is set to air on March 10. (It stars Rick Roberts as Layton and Sook-Yin Lee as Olivia Chow.) Canada, and especially Toronto, seems eager to commemorate the man whose health stopped him at the peak of his career.
“Maybe [that’s] because it came so quickly,” suggested Mike Layton, Jack’s son. “And frankly, if election results say anything, people were taking a liking to him. I think he brought politics done differently, and people found that refreshing…It had just started really to gain him that trust across the country.”
Photos by Carly Maga/Torontoist.