Tributes pour in for York grad Jack Layton

Years before he stepped onto the national stage as the federal NDP leader, Jack Layton [MA ’72, PhD ’83] was an outspoken Toronto alderman known for his bushy hair and blue jeans, wrote CBC News Aug. 22 in one of dozens of stories about the York grad’s death from cancer.

Born in a Montreal suburb and the son of a Tory cabinet minister, Layton came to Toronto as a young man in the 1970s to acquire his master’s degree in political science at York University. But it wasn’t long before Layton the student put his political studies into practice.

At 22, he worked as a canvasser on the campaign of Michael Goldrick, who also happened to be Layton’s urban studies professor. “I learned that job from these fabulous American draft dodgers who’d all come up,” Layton told Maclean’s magazine in a profile published earlier this year. “They were Democrat anti-poverty activists, that sort of stuff, and they knew how to campaign.”

  • Jack Layton [and his first wife Sally Halford] moved to Toronto in 1972, where Layton began graduate studies at York University and began teaching urban politics at Ryerson two years later when he began his PhD, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 22. He would also teach at York and the University of Toronto.

His 1983 thesis, dedicated to Sally and his children, announced the family was about to embark on “the no-more-thesis era of family freedom,” but by that time another passion had already begun to consume his life.

Layton was first elected to Toronto city council in 1982, where he quickly made a name for himself as a brash left-wing reformer who relished the spotlight and knew how to seek it out.

  • By the time he earned his master’s degree at Toronto’s York University in 1972, his political genes had clearly activated, wrote The Canadian Press Aug. 22. He had studied under Jim Laxer, a key figure in the Waffle movement that rocked the NDP at the time.

By the time he received his PhD in 1983, he had already largely abandoned academic theory for community activism and then the practicalities of municipal politics. “I was hooked on local politics and neighbourhood engagement,” he wrote.

Education prof says parents, students have changed

Both parents and students now have more clout on campus, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Aug. 20, in a story about trends in university demographics. But at the same time, our society has been through three decades of economic ups and downs. While most workers are still better off with a degree, a university education is no guarantee of a good job, says Paul Axelrod, a professor of education and history at York University [Faculty of Education] who has studied the history of campus life in Canada.

"This has affected student life. There is more pressure on students and their families to pick strategically."  Parents have morphed into helicopter parents. Their children are both more grown-up than ever and more dependent on their families for longer periods of time, he says.

Social club enjoys revival of old English dance classics

English country dancing…is booming again, revived, thanks in part to BBC costume dramas such as Pride and Prejudice, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 22.

Composers are writing new music and choreographers adding new steps to those compiled by English book publisher John Playford in The English Dancing Master in 1651.

"It’s not fossilized and you’re not dancing museum pieces," said Dorothy de Val, a York University musicologist [Faculty of Fine Arts] who plays keyboard at English country dances. "It’s a great social mixer and I think that’s why it caught on and stayed."

Finery of a different sort is expected to be on parade this October, when de Val and other leading figures from Toronto’s English country dance network take their expertise to a wedding reception.

De Val will provide music, while dance instructor Karen Millyard’s job will be to get guests up on the floor and take them through all the moves, much like a square dance caller cues the do-si-dos. "If anyone is having difficulty," de Val says, "Karen will go and untangle them."

Rapid transit work on schedule

Construction is underway on the York University station on the Spadina subway extension, wrote the Aurora Banner Aug. 19. Large construction equipment is moving into the University’s Harry W. Arthurs Common, outside the York Research Tower.

Vaughan motorists should be unaffected, for now, as construction begins on the subway terminal station at Jane Street and Hwy. 7. That will change in the fall as Millway Avenue is closed and YRT bus stops are closed.

Art has no boundaries

When the Royal Ontario Museum said it wanted to mount a show of her art, Judith Snow [BA Comb. Hons. ’72, MA ’76] relished a moment of triumph, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 20, in a preview of her exhibition Who’s Drawing the Lines: The Journey of Judith Snow, which opened Saturday.

Snow, a quadriplegic, recalls her first sketch at 12 in a rehabilitation centre. She was well into her 50s before she came up with the idea of laser tracking as a means of exploring her artistic ambitions. "Years ago, a therapist in an institution told me my paintings weren’t art, they were therapy," Snow recalled in a telephone interview.

She’s proved that therapist wrong.

A graduate of York University, Snow’s battle for the right to move out of an institution to live in the community helped transform government approaches to funding independent living. The circle of support she built for herself, named her Joshua Committee, became the model of the inclusive philosophy she espouses.

"Inclusion is about the willingness to take a unique difference and develop it as a gift to others," she says. "It is not about disability." An inclusive society values differences as building partnerships that lead to shared achievements that would otherwise not exist, she believes.

Up in smoke: judge blows $16m bust over tipster

A judge has stayed criminal charges against two men accused in a large-scale marijuana bust due to misconduct by three Niagara police officers, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 20. Niagara’s chief of police, Wendy Southall, is also facing scrutiny over the case.

In a highly critical written decision, Ontario Supreme Court Justice Peter Hambly called out the three officers involved in a May 2008 grow-op bust with that seized pot with a street value of $16 million.

"There have been a number of inquiries into police conduct in Canada," said Benjamin Berger, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. "When these add up and develop, when you get these messages sent, the great concern is you have a public that is losing confidence, or may lose confidence in the institution’s government."

Berger said law enforcement is representing some of the basic principals of our democracy: the legitimacy of force and transparency in government, and these are crucial to the public’s sense of the rule of law.

Woman of the Week: Glendon grad Annie Sibonney

Food was at the heart of Annie Sibonney’s home when she was growing up, wrote Women’s Post Aug. 22 in a Woman of the Week profile. She learned to cook alongside her mother, who showed her the power food has on bringing family and friends together around a table.  Five years ago Sibonney [BA Hons. ’06] went on a trip to Spain and right from the first taste, she was hooked on the diverse culture, gastronomy and the gracious nature the people had.  Once again, food was what brought people together.  And now, Sibonney is sharing this intimate experience with viewers at home in her Food Network show “From Spain With Love”.

Sibonney’s thirst for adventure began at a young age. Born to French-Moroccan parents, Sibonney was encouraged to explore different cultures and languages…. Today, she can speak six different languages, which makes traveling and connecting with chefs and locals a lot easier.  However, she didn’t learn Spanish until later on in university.

Sibonney…went on a [University of Toronto] co-op program to Ecuador with two suitcases and not a word of Spanish.  Over a two-year period, Sibonney taught people in school and learned the native language. “I had a real passion to pursue the language academically,” says Sibonney, who went on to graduate from York University [Glendon College], studying Spanish-English translation and Hispanic studies. “Language is an important ingredient for me, and learning to express yourself within the cultural context of the country,” adds Sibonney.

A tribute to Wendy Babcock

Wendy Babcock never gave up on anyone she cared about, wrote NOW magazine Aug. 20. The sex workers’ rights activist who lost her life in early August, was a bridge builder, a passionate advocate for the marginalized and a student, not just of law at Osgoode Hall Law School, but of life.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor and director of the International MBA program in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Canada’s need to rethink its trade strategy and look for new trade partners, on CFRB Radio Aug. 19.
  • Eric Armstrong, professor of voice in York’s Department of Theatre, Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about criticism of actor Anne Hathaway’s accent in her latest film One Day, on CBC Radio Aug. 19.