Irving Layton Avenue Unveiling, (and photo) The Chronicle, April 30th 2007
April 30th 2007
Côte St. Luc's mayor and city councillors will be officially dedicating a new street in honour of one of Canada's greatest poets — Irving Layton — this coming Sunday at 11 a.m.
The ceremony for Irving Layton Avenue, which is situated behind St. Richard's Church near Guelph Road and Parkhaven Avenue, will include the unveiling of the street sign, a plaque in honour of Layton, as well as speeches by Mayor Anthony Housefather and Layton's son, Max.
"Irving Layton lived for long periods of his life in Côte St. Luc," says Housefather. "He raised two of his children in our community and chose to spend his last years here. Layton was an extraordinarily prolific writer, poet and teacher. I am proud to dedicate this avenue to his memory."
Born in a the small Romanian town of Tirgui Neamt in 1912 to Jewish parents, Layton immigrated with his family to Canada in 1913, settling in Montreal. He grew up in a poor neighbourhood around St. Urbain Street and fell in love with poetry when he was in grade 10.
Layton spent most of his career as a teacher. He taught at Sir George Williams University, Herzliah High School and the Jewish Public Library. Many of his students have become prominent public figures, including Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler and D'Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman, both of whom will speak on Sunday.
Layton published 50 books of poetry and prose between 1945 and 1992, many of which were translated into Greek, Italian, Spanish, Korean and other languages. His collection of poetry, A Red Carpet for the Sun, won the Governor General's Award in 1959. He was made an officer in the Order of Canada in 1976. He died on Jan. 4, 2006 at the age of 93.
Max Layton, who teaches school and is a musician in Toronto, says his father had a major impact on his life. "Because of my father, I am a better human being," says Max. He proudly describes his father as "amazingly well-read," with an astonishing breadth of interests and insights.
Max has vivid recollections of the family home during the 1950s — a farm house in the days just before Côte St. Luc was permanently transformed into a bedroom suburb. He remembers the parties his parents hosted and at which all kinds of artists turned up, including dancers, potters, sculptors and actors. Among these was Leonard Cohen, the burgeoning young poet and songwriter who was destined for world fame.
Max recalls how, at night, he would sneak out of his room and watch from the top of the stairs what the adults were up to. He describes Cohen as being like a "magnet attracting women." As soon as Cohen stepped into the room, women would swirl around.
"Leonard, in my opinion, is the greatest song writer of our times," says Max. "He's the 21st century Jewish psalmist. His songs for me were very religious, beautiful and memorable."