Late NDP Leader Jack Layton Honoured With a Statue
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Late NDP Leader Jack Layton Honoured With a Statue

A bronze statue of Jack Layton was unveiled this afternoon in front of the newly renamed Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.

A young man poses with Layton’s memorial while MP Olivia Chow addresses a crowd.

Eariler today, on the two-year anniversary of New Democrat leader Jack Layton’s death, the late politician got his first permanent, public memorial. The Toronto Island Ferry Terminal was renamed the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, and, just in front of the terminal, a unique monument to Layton was unveiled.

Called, Jack’s Got Your Back. Stronger Together: The Layton Memorial, the monument is a bronze sculpture that depicts Layton on the back seat of a tandem bicycle. Toronto sculptor David Pelletier created the statue with design tips from Layton’s widow, Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow (who is herself a sculptor), to ensure that the features were accurate. The front seat is open, to encourage people to sit and take photos.

“I actually was in the back. I had Jack’s back,” Chow laughed during her speech to a crowd of dignitaries and reporters. She described how she and Jack would ride tandem everywhere.

“Now,” she said, “he has your back.”

Layton, Chow and their family members were known to ride tandem bicycles throughout Toronto and on family trips. “When you ride together, you’re stronger, faster. You move forward, just like a community,” Chow said.

Jack’s son, Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) also spoke, as did Mayor Rob Ford, Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan, and author Bill Freeman. Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) hosted the ceremony. A slew of Layton’s family and supporters were also in attendance. Around 300 people were there, in total.

Each speaker talked about how the sculpture and the renaming reflects Layton’s deep love and passion for the Islands and the people who live there. He was a “driving force in protecting our islanders’ homes,” Councillor McConnell said. “It was where he found tranquility and was re-energized. It was where he got married.”

Mayor Rob Ford brought the politics. “Although we had different views,” he said, “Jack was always kind and respectful…This is Toronto’s way of saying thank you. Thank you to Jack Layton for the way he lived.”

The speakers touched on Layton’s other passions. They spoke of his drive for equality, justice, and the environment, and the way he dedicated himself to ending violence against women and improving worker’s rights, among many other causes.

A passage from Layton’s now-iconic farewell letter can be found alongside the memorial monument

The Ontario Federation of Labour fundraised $350,000 to cover the costs of the statue on behalf of workers in Ontario, whose wellbeing, Ryan argued, was perhaps Layton’s greatest legacy.

In 2010, Layton made a public appearance to announce that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He continued with his duties until after the 2011 Federal Election. Then, on July 25 that same year, he said he would be taking a temporary leave of absence to battle an unspecified new cancer. He died shortly after, in the early hours of August 22, 2011.

Before he died, he wrote a now-iconic letter to Canadians. A passage from this letter can be seen inscribed on the dedication plaque alongside the sculpture. It says: “So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Photos by Sheena Lyonnais/Torontoist.