More than 300 people gathered on the site of the former Don Jail Sunday for the chance to be the first to walk along Jack Layton Way and to celebrate the man who represented the area as a city councillor and member of Parliament.
The unveiling of the re-named roadway on the soon-to-reopen Bridgepoint Health campus took place Feb. 24, a day before the street officially opened to traffic. A number of dignitaries were on hand to honour their former colleague and there were plenty of residents who had come from near and not so near to be a part of the special event.
Beverley Thorpe doesn’t live in Layton’s former riding, but she knew she wanted to be at the event as soon as she heard about it.
“Normally I wouldn’t do this on a Sunday, but I thought it was important,” she said. “It’s important that we recognize Jack with at least a minimum of a street named after him, and keep his vision alive.”
Thorpe, in particular, liked Layton for his environmental policies so she thought the site near the Don River was fitting.
“I love the fact that we are high up and next to the Don Valley,” she said. “It’s a good location.”
Though Beach resident Karen Pierce was a Layton supporter it wasn’t her idea to stand outside for an hour on a snowy Sunday, her daughter Heather wanted to attend.
“I missed the funeral so I wanted to come,” the 23 year old said.
She liked Layton’s charisma.
“He seemed more real than other leaders,”
Mom thought he was inspiring.
“He was a good leader and accessible,” she said. “He really inspired followers.”
It was also a family occasion for Gavin Leeb who brought his 11-year-old son Mitchell.
“We were very proud supporters of Jack and wanted to remember him, and this is a way to recognize his contribution to the community,” Leeb said.
He said he brought Mitchell because he wanted him to learn how people are recognized for making a difference. The two were part of the large crowd who walked with friends, family, strollers and dogs east along Jack Layton Way.
Before the crowd took a stroll from the new Bridgepoint to Broadview Avenue, many spoke about Layton including his widow, Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow.
“We thank city council and Paula Fletcher for naming this street Jack Layton Way. It is very fitting that what was here was a menacing jail that’s been transformed into a place where there is healing and lots of love. That is so much the Jack Layton way,” she said.
The event was also the opportunity for people to remember the principles and values Layton believed in and championed. People wore buttons in support of equality, healthcare, education, child care, arts, transit and the environment.
City council decided last summer to name the Toronto Ferry Terminal after Layton, who died in August 2011, but Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher said re-naming the street after the former NDP leader was a way for Riverdale to honour him.
“This is our community’s tribute to Jack,” she said.
Fletcher said the location was the right place for a combination of reasons – Layton was instrumental in seeing the Don Jail refurbished into the new Bridgepoint Health; he was one of the first to champion cleaning the Don River; it’s in the heart of Riverdale; and it’s at the entry into East Chinatown.
“You put all that together and it just felt like Jack,” said Fletcher.
Chow and Fletcher were joined by councillors Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, and Pam McConnell; MPPs Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina) and MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth); Layton’s successor MP Craig Scott; Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue and MP Matthew Kellway; MP Peggy Nash; and former MPP Marilyn Churley. Layton’s children councillor Mike Layton and Sarah Campbell, as well as his two granddaughters were on hand for the celebration.