Jack Layton remembered Haida Gwaii: Nathan Cullen

  • Aug. 22, 2011 7:00 a.m.

Jack Layton spoke often about the visit he made to Haida Gwaii in the summer of 2004, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said Monday following the NDP leader’s death. “He talked about your communities forever,” said Mr. Cullen, who had just been elected for the first time back in 2004 when he invited Mr. Layton to visit the riding. Mr. Layton and his wife, Olivia Chow, spent 10 days here, kayaking in Skidegate Inlet and hitchhiking their way throughout the rest of the islands communities. “He’d reference it back,” Mr. Cullen said. “When we were sworn in, he brought an eagle feather from Haida Gwaii. He was just in love with the north.” Mr. Cullen said he was making breakfast for his kids Monday morning when he got the news that Mr. Layton had died, just weeks after stepping down temporarily as party leader to fight cancer. “To hear this was just shocking,” he said. “I knew Jack was sick… I fell into the camp that this guy could beat even this.” Mr. Cullen said he was with Mr. Layton in late June. He seemed vigorous and was working on plans for the future, and there was no sign of illness. Mr. Layton’s care and concern was evident in the final letter he wrote to Canadians, published after his death. “I thought it was a beautiful piece,” Mr. Cullen said. “That summarizes Jack for me – he knows that he is dying and he says, take hope, be optimistic. He was very interested that other people do not feel despair.” MLA Gary Coons was also mourning the death of a colleague and friend Monday. “It’s an extremely sad day for a lot of people and our nation,” he said. “He was an extraordinary and a great leader.” Mr. Coons said he had happy memories of drinking with Mr. Layton at the Oceanview Hotel in Prince Rupert during various election campaigns. He last saw him in the middle of May during the federal NDP convention in Vancouver, just after the NDP won 102 seats in the federal election and became the official opposition for the first time. “He was in great spirits,” Mr. Coons said. “He had just won the hearts and souls of Canadians, I believe, of all parties. He was up there telling jokes, he even danced a jig.” A state funeral will be held for Mr. Layton Saturday in Toronto.

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