By Calvin Dao
Last Tuesday evening at the Ryerson Library Archives, students and NDP supporters gathered for the official inauguration of the Jack Layton Book Club. But very little time was spent talking about books.
Terry Grier, Ryerson’s president emeritus and the featured speaker for the event titled “Jack Layton:
From the Classroom to National Icon,” gave an emotional speech, remembering Layton’s career as an educator before he entered politics.
“I think that [Layton’s] unique touch was that people saw him as their friend,” said Grier to the small group of people who attended.
“He truly did give his life trying to build, in Canada, a society of friends. With enough time, he would have transformed Canadian politics,” said an emotional Grier after his one-and-a-half-hour summary of the politician’s life.
“That he died before he could do so is Canada’s tragedy.” Layton’s younger brother, David, was also present in the audience and showed his support for the book club.
“[Jack] loved this place so much,” said David, who kept things upbeat and lighthearted with a couple of jokes. “[And] I’m delighted you chose Jack’s books as opposed to some of his old lectures.”
The club was created by Jack Layton Chair and Ryerson politics professor, Myer Siemiatycki, after about 1,400 books and other published texts from the NDP leader’s personal collection were donated to the school last fall.
“He was inspiring, charismatic, smart and totally dedicated to his students,” said Siemiatycki. “Jack had a real affection and commitment to Ryerson. [He] conveyed to Ryerson students that they could have an impact on the world… [His] connections to Ryerson are deep and significant.”
Siemiatycki hosted the event and shared his experiences working with Layton when they both taught politics back in the 1970s and 80s.
Although only two books were briefly mentioned during the event – The Pattern of Politics by Charles Taylor, a textbook Layton used in one of the courses when he taught at Ryerson, and Love, Hope and
Optimism by James L. Turk and Charis Wahl, a biography about him that was published a year after his death – the collection also includes Layton’s copy of Marx’s Concept of Man by Erich Fromm (about the economist Karl Marx). The book is currently on display in the Ryerson Archives, alongside a few of Layton’s plaques, posters and personal photos.
Notes written on the margins of the books’ pages read “increased wages” and “equality of incomes,” alluding to his political agenda.
The club will hold two more meetings on March 28 and April 10, featuring philosophy professor Alex Wellington and English professor Jason Boyd (respectively) as speakers.