OTTAWA -- Wen Juan never met Jack Layton, nor does she vote NDP, but Layton's courageous fight with prostate cancer prompted her to wait for hours on Parliament Hill Wednesday to pay her respects to the late NDP leader.
"My father died of (prostate) cancer," she said. "I remember my father at that time; he could not speak because he was in so much pain. (Layton) was like my father -- very, very brave and tried their best to hide the pain to comfort friends and family surrounding them."
For more than two hours, Pierre-Antoine Jollez stood on crutches, inching forward a step at a time. Beside him, his wife, Katia, held an umbrella to protect their three-month-old son from the rain. There was no way to tell how much longer they would have to wait to see Layton's body lying in state in Parliament. For Jollez, it didn't matter.
"I just had to do it," he said. "He went through so much more than me. He stood for more than two hours with a bad hip in the debate."
Through sunshine and rain, thousands of Canadians gathered in Ottawa Wednesday to remember the late NDP leader and say goodbye.
When the hearse carrying Layton's body arrived from Toronto earlier in the morning, the sun was shining. A crowd of several hundred mourners, many dressed in orange, had gathered behind a metal barricade. A solitary bagpipe began to play and the bells of the Peace Tower tolled 15 times as an honour guard of Mounties lifted the flag-draped casket and carried it up the red-carpeted steps of Parliament into the rotunda.
Inside, dozens of NDP MPs waited with Layton's closest confidantes and friends. In a plain black dress, her face sombre, Layton's widow, fellow NDP MP Olivia Chow, and the rest of his family paused at the entrance before following the casket.
In the foyer, where Layton's body will lie in state until Thursday, the casket was placed on a black block, just feet from the House of Commons where, only a few weeks earlier, the late NDP leader had taken the seat reserved for the leader of Canada's official Opposition. Black ribbons adorned the flagpoles and guards stood at each corner, backs to the casket, heads bowed. A picture of Layton with his trademark grin was set to one side, a bouquet of white roses laid beneath.
Chow stood with her hands clasped in front of her. The only sounds were cameras clicking and Layton's granddaughter, Beatrice, cooing. Chow smiled faintly at the little girl.
Layton's family was given a few minutes to grieve in private before the foyer was reopened and dignitaries began to file in, paying their respects to Chow and the rest of the family. Present with Chow in the foyer were Layton's daughter Sarah Layton and her partner Hugh Campbell, Layton's granddaughter Beatrice Campbell, his son Michael Layton and his fiancé Brett Tryon, and his first wife, Sally Roy.
A visibly shaken Michaëlle Jean spoke to Chow at length. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen, walked in with tears in her eyes.
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, who has been confirmed as one of the pallbearers at Layton's funeral in Toronto on Saturday, and interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel were the first New Democrats to enter and pay their respects.
Libby Davies and Thomas Mulcair, the NDP's co-deputy leaders and the presumed front-runners in the eventual race to replace Layton, entered side by side. Mulcair, his eyes red and his lip quivering, took a deep breath, made a cross on his chest and touched the casket. After he signed the book of condolences, Davies gave him a hug.
At midday, blue skies were replaced by grey clouds. Despite the threat of rain, hundreds waited outside as the last dignitaries went through the foyer. NDP MPs came outside to thank supporters for coming out to honour Layton, reaching across a metal barrier to hug and share memories and tears.
When Chow emerged from Centre Block, hand in hand with Michael and Sarah, the crowd erupted in applause. Then she took out a yellow rose and, with a final wave of gratitude to the crowd, disappeared back inside. Layton's first wife, Sally Roy, was also present in the foyer.
As the last dignitaries filed through, the doors were opened to the public. Throughout the day, more people arrived to honour Layton and say their goodbyes. They lined up for as long as five hours even as rain began to fall.
Many were clearly still in shock at the late NDP leader's sudden death due to cancer.
Pat Dolan had tears in her eyes as she recounted the last time she saw Jack Layton. On March 9, she and fellow members of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign sat in the House of Commons' public gallery as Parliament voted on a private member's bill that would help get badly needed medicines to developing countries. As the clerk announced the results and it became clear the bill had passed, Dolan recalled, Layton stood and pumped his fist in the grandmothers' direction.
"He shared our victory," she said.
Her husband, Bill Dolan, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, wore a bright yellow prostate-cancer-survivor's T-shirt.
After paying their respects to Layton and signing the book of condolences, political allies and rivals came forward to share their thoughts.
Liberal party interim leader Bob Rae said Layton had been struck down in his prime.
"We're talking about someone who had a lot left to give the country," Rae said. "Who knows where the future would have taken him?"
Former prime minister Joe Clark said he believed the NDP's breakthrough in Quebec in May's federal election wasn't a one-hit wonder. Rather, he felt it would be one of the Layton's legacies that would continue to be felt in Canadian politics for a long time.
After two days in Ottawa, Layton's body will be taken back to Toronto for a state funeral Saturday at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall. The Department of Heritage has taken the lead in organizing the funeral, in accordance with the family's wishes.
The last Canadian state funeral was for former governor general Romeo LeBlanc in July 2009.
-- Postmedia News, with files from Amy Chung