Throngs of Canadians lined up in front of the Peace Tower and around the East Block on Parliament Hill yesterday to await their turn to visit Jack Layton’s casket and pay respect to the late New Democratic Party leader.


Dignitaries and NDP employees were allowed to pay their respects first in the foyer of the House of Commons starting at 11 a.m. Its doors opened at 1 p.m. for the public.


Condolence books lined the hall adjacent to the rotunda for anyone to sign.


“You have been a gift to Canada and the world, Jack! You will be greatly missed,” read one note.


Hélène Lapointe, an NDP provincial executive member in Dieppe, N.B., was one of the first to arrive at 10:30 a.m.


She was visiting her mother in Ottawa this week and heard the news of Layton’s death while in town.

Sporting a pair of dark sunglasses, her voice trembled as she recalled how Layton publicly thanked her in 2008.

“He came to MP Yvonne Godin’s nomination in Acadie Bathurst, NB, started speaking French and said ‘thanks to Hélène, my French is much better.’ ”

Lapointe had always stressed that MPs needed to be perfectly bilingual to run in the election and Layton convinced all of them to join a French immersion course a year later.

“I told him, ‘there’s always room for improvement.’ ”

Public visitations will begin again today on Parliament Hill at 9 a.m. and continue until

1:30 p.m. Layton’s casket will be taken to Toronto City Hall where it will lie in repose on Friday before a state funeral at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday.