Three generations after friends and supporters first raised the city’s monument to honor George Étienne Cartier, more than a thousand people came out to honor another great Canadian. As the sun was setting over the mountain, women dressed in black with nothing more than a bright orange scarf began walking down the street towards the monument. Others used the bus while some rode in on their bikes. There were lots of smiles and friendly greetings as everyone caught up on the news after they dropped out of sight after the last campaign. While some women were pushing baby buggies, others were helping their mother shuffle along with her walker. Some were happy to be with friends while others stood alone with their thoughts at the foot of the monument. Candles were lit as someone began to read the letter Jack Layton wrote only hours before he died.
“To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope….You have every reason to be optimistic, determined and focused on the future. My only advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey as I have done this summer.”
With bright eyes, no eyebrows and nothing more than a black bandana to cover his bald head, one man kept to the edge of the crowd as he listened to Layton’s message with tears running down his cheeks. As the night began to fall, the crowd began to light some candles as they listened to what Layton had to say to both the young and the old.
“…we can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment….Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”
Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair could be seen among the back rows of the crowd. Visibly moved by the depth of the crowd’s emotion, he was polite but refused to make any further comments about what was clearly a deep personal loss. Other MPs made a point of showing up at the vigil but nothing could hide the grief caused by the loss of their leader and the man whom many considered to be a close and personal friend.
“I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you and now I am going to do so again…..Colleagues, I know you will make tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent elections.”
After a moment of silence, a couple of musicians stepped up and began to play a lively cover of the Canadian version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This land is your land’. The crowd began to sing along but once they heard the song’s chorus, more than a few women (and some men) had tears in their eyes when they heard the following lines.
“The sun comes shining
As I was strolling,
The wheat fields waving,
And the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting, a voice came chanting
This land was made for you and me.”
Soon afterwards, someone began to sing a soulful version of Raymond Lévesque’s ‘Quand les gens vivront d’amour’ after which everyone who knew the lyrics joined in. In a special part of his letter, Layton had a special thought for everyone in French Canada who supported the NDP during the last election.
“On May 2nd, you made a historic decision. You decided the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then ….and it will be the right decision right through to the next election…You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.”
Visibly moved, at least one woman who is a serious presence in the city’s legal community said she deeply touched, and not a little impressed by the fact Layton composed his final letter only hours before he died. As she herself is living with a serious illness, she believes Layton’s final wish for both Canada and its people will end up being the most important part of his impressive legacy.
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
And as one of this country’s great Canadians and as one of Québec’s favorite sons, George Étienne Cartier would probably have agreed with Jack Layton’s wishes for their country, their province and their fellow Canadians.