TORONTO – Family members gathering to pay tribute to Jack Layton’s life and legacy say that a bronze statue unveiled Thursday on the Toronto waterfront brought back “a flood of joyous memories.”
The life-sized sculpture depicts the former federal NDP leader, who was once a Toronto city councillor, sitting on the back seat of a tandem bicycle.
The revealing of the statue, which is a gift from the Ontario Federation of Labour, coincided with the city renaming its ferry terminal after the popular politician.
MP Olivia Chow says the statue and the renaming of the ferry terminal were huge honours and would have meant a lot to her husband, who died Aug. 22, 2011.
Speaking at the unveiling, Chow said “being in this place, the starting place for so many wonderful journeys, brings back a flood of joyous memories.”
Chow said she and Layton were married on nearby Toronto Island 25 years ago and that a tandem bicycle was a wedding present she and Layton gave each other.
“We always had fun riding. We rode through the Islands, the Pride Parade, the bike trails all across Toronto and all across Canada. We had a great time.”
Visitors will be able to sit on the front seat and have their picture taken but Chow said that in real life she was always in the back.
“Now he has your back,” she said.
Layton died at age 61 after a battle with cancer just months after leading his New Democrats to official Opposition status for the first time.
His flag-draped coffin lay in state for two days in Parliament, and a state funeral was held in Toronto on Aug. 27, 2011.
At a ceremony on Thursday, Chow thanked all those involved in preserving her husband’s memory.
“In many years, after all of us are gone, this bronze sculpture will endure,” she said.
“Newcomers who have never heard of Jack Layton will come to this spot…They will see the imitation of this happy, joyful man on a tandem bicycle. A man dedicated to equality, justice and the environment. And it will make them smile.”
Layton’s son, Toronto city Coun. Mike Layton, said the sculpture of his father on a tandem bike was a fitting symbol of his life.
“A tandem bike is about co-operation, working towards a common goal,” he said.
“But the journey is made even easier by sharing the load. Most of all a tandem bike is more fun because the experience is shared with others. That’s how he lived his life.”
The sculpture, named “Jack’s got your back. Stronger Together: The Layton Memorial,” was created by Toronto artist David Pellettier.
Trifon Bukuvalas, a vendor who made hot dogs for Layton while he was city councillor, says he was looking forward to seeing the new statue when he finished his work at his stand just around the corner from the terminal. He says Layton helped him get his Canadian visa after he came from Greece in 1987.
“For me, it’s not just a name, Jack Layton is a symbol,” Bukuvalas said as he worked the barbecue.
“Jack Layton had a dream for a better world.”