Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City service honours Layton

Local church hosts 'celebration'

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Jack Layton's funeral was thousands of kilometres away, but a boisterous audience in the pews of Knox United Church in Winnipeg applauded and gave ovations over and over, watching on a big screen Saturday. At times, the 200 mourners filled the hall with hearty laughter and at others, they cried, quietly.

An hour before the live telecast of the funeral from Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, the church held a "celebration of life" for Layton. It began with dozens lining up to light little white candles as the constant beat of an African drum pulsed through the hall. The flames flickered during the rest of the service in front of the screen, which showed pictures of Layton greeting supporters, smiling unabashedly.

Several community members spoke, and the warm, melisma-filled voice of singer Flo Soul filled the space with a rendition of Amazing Grace. The audience joined in with gusto.

Seine River MLA Theresa Oswald cited a famous Maya Angelou quote: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

"I believe this to be especially true about Jack Layton. He made us feel important and worthy in those individual and private moments and as a nation he made us feel inspired."

There were funny moments during the celebration of life, too. Oswald remembered agreeing with Layton that "there are two groups of people. Those who get karaoke and those who don't."

Emily Stiemer, a 23-year-old NDP member in the audience, said in an interview before the celebration started that she watched Layton sing We are the Champions at a karaoke fundraiser once. Stiemer hesitated when asked how he sang, before saying he was definitely committed to his performance. "I think the common thought was 'Don't quit your day job.'"

When the celebration of life ended and the images of Layton on the screen switched to a shot of the hundreds gathered in Roy Thomson Hall, the crowd became responsive. It spontaneously stood as Layton's coffin was carried into the hall, and clapped after National Chief Shawn Atteo's speech, as it would many times in the next hour. It laughed at lines like, "I asked Jack how churchy I could be today and he said, 'Go for it!'" from Rev. Brent Hawkes, who officiated the state funeral.

While there was only the odd orange outfit in the Winnipeg audience, there were several NDP members and supporters present, such as Andreas Bludeau, who attended the event with former MLA Marianne Cerilli. "Of course I didn't know him personally, but there was just a sense he was a real person," Bludeau said in an interview. "I only really knew him on TV and heard him on the radio. But there was a sense he was real, so that's why there's a sense of loss."

But there were people who aren't traditional NDP voters there, too, such as Vi and Claude Gaye. "We admire him as a Canadian," Claude said. "I think this explains it," Claude said, pointing to the screen before the celebration of life started. It showed, at that moment, an image of Jack beaming at a child. "He's just a good person."

On the sidewalk after the funeral, people stood and chatted. Sharon Wall was on her way to a bar with her friends to "drink beer and change the world after that," she said.

Her friend Chris Chmelyk said it was important to be with other people, Saturday, rather than watch the funeral on TV at home.

"That's exactly what Jack would have wanted. He wanted people to enjoy life. He wanted to make life better for people," Chmelyk said.

Winnipegger Carlos Sosa attended the service in Toronto. He worked with Layton during his 2002 leadership campaign and came to admire him greatly. "That's why I came down here to pay my respects."

He managed to get a seat in Roy Thomson Hall for the service, but it wasn't easy. "There were 200 people in line when I arrived there at 4 a.m. Saturday morning.

"It was the celebration of Jack's life that he would have wanted. I will cherish those memories."

 

william.burr@freepress.mb.ca

"We could have sat at home and watched it on television but it was important for us to have an opportunity to celebrate Jack's life and accomplishments with Canadians. That's exactly what Jack would have wanted. He wanted people to enjoy life. He wanted to make life better for people."

-- Chris Chmelyk

 

"It's overwhelming. Even though I never got to meet the man, I voted for him. He's a unique man. He was very special and he spoke on a lot of issues -- on disability, on people who are homeless -- like myself."

-- Sherry MacDonald

 

"I think he kind of lived down that suggestion that politics had to be dour and serious and instead showed us something about possibility and I think they tried to get a little bit of that in the service."

-- Adele Perry

 

"Even in this terrifically difficult week for all of us who've worked with him over the years and feel the loss, we also feel such great optimism about what we can do."

-- Shirley Lord

 

"I always felt like a wacko because I always said we could be in power. Jack started saying that in the last year -- saying don't let people say it can't be done. It happened in Quebec."

-- Sharon Wall

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2011 A5

History

Updated on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 11:58 AM CDT: Corrects name of singer

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