TORONTO – Hundreds of people packed a downtown Toronto cathedral and spilled onto its lawns to say their final goodbyes to controversial former mayor Rob Ford, who captured the city’s attention as much in death as he did in life.
The funeral service on Wednesday afternoon, which was open to the public, drew a mix of Ford’s family, members of the public and an array of politicians, including those who routinely disagreed with Ford when he was alive.
Ford, a volatile, larger-than-life politician, died from cancer last week at age 46.
He had become an international celebrity in recent years in light of his admitted crack cocaine use, alcohol abuse, lewd comments and at times outrageous behaviour that transformed his office into an unprecedented spectacle.
But much of the divisive feelings over Ford appeared outweighed by positive emotions Wednesday as many gathered to pay their last respects.
Ford’s brother, Doug, highlighted the way the funeral service had brought people of different stripes together as he wrestled with his emotions during a eulogy.
“Today we’re putting our political differences aside,” he said. We’re here for the Rob Ford party, the party of the people.”
Drawing chuckles from the crowd with a few stories of Ford, he described the former mayor someone “always willing to go out and help people.”
“He just loved the people of Toronto,” he said before addressing Ford directly.
“I love you more than anything in the world and don’t worry, Ford Nation will continue, we’ll continue respecting the taxpayers.”
Ford’s young daughter, Stephanie, also spoke at her father’s service, calling him a “great mayor.”
“He helped a lot of people. He was also an amazing dad,” she said. “I know my dad is in a better place now and he’s the mayor of heaven now.”
Ford’s casket had arrived at St. James Cathedral in a procession which had wound its way from city hall, where the politician had lain in repose for two days.
Some in slow, steady march sporadically broke into song, others waved “Ford Nation” flags and many chanted “mayor for life.”
Earlier, cheers rose up from the crowds when Ford’s wife blew kisses to the masses as her husband’s flag-draped casket was lifted into a hearse. Ford’s family members — some of them sobbing quietly — stood nearby.
Evelyn Cappelli was among those who had gathered to pay their respects and said Ford was “a man for the people.”
“He told the truth, a lot of people do not like to hear the truth but he was just a great guy,” she said. “Unfortunately the press sort of did him in by all that adverse publicity but on the other hand the press did him a favour, he got all that free publicity.”
Heather Hogben-Bruce, who had also lined up outside the cathedral, said Ford was a “very loved” man.
“He has done a lot for the people of Toronto, especially the little people. He was the people’s mayor,” she said. “Nobody’s perfect and I think he’s an incredible man.”
The politician, who was loved by some and loathed by others, served as mayor from 2010 to 2014.
He dropped his re-election bid after his cancer diagnosis, choosing to run instead as a city councillor — a seat he won with ease.
Ford’s family is planning a celebration in the evening at a west-end hall that has been the site of huge Ford rallies in the past.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report