The life and legacy of former NDP leader Jack Layton will be celebrated in Toronto and across the country today, one year after he passed away from cancer.
A memorial event that will start at 6 p.m. ET at Nathan Phillips Square is being called a "celebration of love, hope and optimism," a reference to a portion of Layton's last letter.
That letter will be read aloud and musicians including Ron Sexsmith, Raffi, Jason Collett and Lorraine Segato will perform. Organizers also promise other surprise guests. Layton's widow, NDP MP Olivia Chow, his children Mike and Sarah, and other friends and family will be in attendance.
Before the event, Layton's ashes are being at the Toronto Necropolis cemetery, one of the city's most historic burial sites, and one that had special meaning to Layton.
Layton died on Aug. 22, 2011, less than four months after leading his party to opposition status in the general election.
In the days that followed, mourners in Toronto took to where he first made his political mark as a Toronto councillor outside city hall at Nathan Phillips Square — and covered it with tribute messages using chalk.
Toronto street artist Dave Johnston has been commissioned by the NDP to colour the pavement at the square for Wednesday's memorial event, just as those thousands had done a year ago.
"I always brushed politicians with the same brush," said Johnston. "But his speech at the end, that's what inspired me about the guy."
Toronto Coun. Mike Layton said people continue to share their thoughts on how his father changed the city almost every day.
"I was over on Toronto islands recently, and someone sitting on their front porch ran over to me and said, 'This is the house that Jack saved,'" said Layton.
Events planned in other cities
While the Toronto gathering is the marquee event to mark the first anniversary of Layton's death, other events are planned across the country in:
- Thunder Bay
- Quebec City
- St. John's
Organizers in Calgary plan to serve Orange Crush and stream the Toronto event online.
The NDP's sweep of Quebec in the last federal election that pushed Layton into the role of Official Opposition leader was known as the Orange Crush because it's the NDP's trademark colour.
In Ottawa, people gathered at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill at 11 a.m. for a vigil, and a picnic in a park is scheduled for the evening.
Source can't believe it's been a year
I'm going to try and make it to the memorial at Nathan Phillips Square today. Sometimes I'll remember Jack's really gone and I get so terribly sad. He still had so much good to do.