In the 1990’s, I do recall sitting in the cheap $10 seats in St. Paul’s Church and listening to Tafelmusik, Toronto’s baroque chamber music group play. Gazing across the church on the other side, I saw Olivia and Jack come in and sit down. Guess everyone likes a bargain.
In the 1994 or 1995, to 1999 period, I had the privilege of being the Public Co-Chair to either Jack or Olivia Chow on the Metro Toronto Cycling Committee, which then transitioned into the Metro Toronto Cycling and Pedestrian Committee, and finally to the Toronto Cycling Committee.
Pleading for $25,000 Study
I do recall watching the proceedings of the Toronto Council where Jack was pleading with almost tears in his eyes. He was asking the Council for a paltry $25,000 to do an initial study on tearing down the east end extension of the aboveground Gardiner Expressway. He just kept on persistently pleading and pleading for this little
money, similar to a child pleading for a candy bar. Finally, Council, which was totally pro-car except for a couple of members, gave in. It appeared that giving Jack $25,000 for the study was a way to shut him up.
Later on, as the final plans to tear down this section to Leslie St., were taking shape and being prepared for tender, on Jack’s encouragement and facilitation, I appeared before a Council Committee to ask for their endorsement of a wide bike path beside the road where the Gardiner Expressway once stood.
1990’s- Inspired by Amsterdam’s Cycling Infrastructure After Vacation Trip
I do remember in the 90’s when Jack returned from a trip to Amsterdam. He brought back a Dutch copy of the CROWE Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, the bible on cycling infrastructure design. He loaned it to me for a short while, but insisted that I return it to him. He was totally excited with the cycling infrastructure designs he saw in the Netherlands and wanted to bring them to Toronto. Finally, ten years later I was able to get my own copy, this time in English.
He has been described as energetic, upbeat, anything can be done, let’s move forward against all odds. That is the way how I remember him.
Loved Stage of Public Limelight
Jean: Clearly he was a politician who revelled in the public limelight or at least centre stage, to mobilize himself and others into action. Yes, it did appear abit egotistical. But he was willing to work hard to gain that limelight and by giving back to the community.
I never personally knew Layton. But I did witness his gregarious, fun side at fundraising dinner in a Chinatown restaurant during the mid 1980’s. At the time, I had just started to become involved with the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), a lead national organization on race relations and immigrant issues.
This was before I caught the bicycling bug in 1992 and later identified Layton, as a cyclist who rolled into some Toronto Bike to Work Week events in the early 1990’s.
In Chinatown- Fundraising for a Hospital
The first time, he was the comic auctioneer with his then friend, now wife, Olivia Chow. The duet were clearly enjoying each other’s company on stage –he joking in English, dashing in clumsily a Chinese word, while she was flirting and laughing as she translated or probably semi-translated, in Chinese, to a crowd of well over 300 diners. I’m sorry I don’t remember the exact charity dinner, but maybe it was the famed Mount Sinai Hospital fundraiser that sparked the Layton and Chow romance.
Through CCNC, Layton personally knew the key Toronto Chinese-Canadians involved in social justice and race relations with dedicated years of service and public education work on immigrant support services, counseling and legal aid. It is not surprising that later, this type of personal understanding and grass-roots networking, would help build his electorate base for the “common” people which Ignatieff and Harper have found it harder to capture more broadly.
My other memory is of Layton rolling into Nathan Phillips Square one morning in celebration of Bike to Work week. He was cycling and singing satirical cycling ditties with Toronto’s cycling choir, “Song Cycles”. (They actually did have a CD which I have somewhere lost in the bowels of my overcrowded bookcase.)
Thousands of Layton’s Cycling Legacy in Toronto: Bike Rack Design
Toronto doesn’t have to worry about finding a permanent public marker to memorialize his legacy –there already is one: 16,000 ring and post bike racks installed over the city, a design that he concocted.
So thanks, for the memories. From the cycling world, thanks for cycling because you loved to cycle year after year to and from work and around town in Toronto and Ottawa, regardless of whether or not the Canadian media paparazzi even paid attention at all.
Now, that is spinning words into action.
Below: Canadian comedian Rick Mercer tours their environmentally friendly home and glimpses home life in Toronto. Filmed in 2010:
Roberts, Wayne. “He’s Already Made a Revolution“. In Now. Aug. 25 – Sept. 1, 2011. Vol. 30 (no.52). Article highlights Layton’s efforts as Toronto city councillor, then as national NDP leader.