Manitobans joined with Canadians across the country paying respect to NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Layton, 61, died early Monday from cancer. He was at home, surrounded by his wife and children.

"I think it's a sad day. He was a fine man," said Manitoban Kelly Seifert.

Layton's death comes only weeks after he announced in late July that he was temporarily stepping down as NDP leader to undergo cancer treatment.

He was born into politics, with his great-grand uncle, grandfather and father all having significant political roles.

Layton began his own rise to political prominence as a Toronto city councillor, before moving into federal politics.

In 2003, he won the national leadership of the NDP, defeating Winnipegger Bill Blaikie.

Blaikie spoke about Layton's impact on the political landscape on Monday.

"His legacy is to set Canadians free from captivity to the notion that the only two possible governments that they can have are Liberal or Conservative governments," said Blaikie.

In May, Layton became the official opposition leader in parliament, marking the first time in the federal NDP's history that the party had formed the official opposition.

A letter written by Layton shortly before his death was released publicly on Monday.

In it, he urged cancer patients not to give up their battles and he offered advice for Canadians.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world," wrote Layton.

Politicians of all backgrounds voiced words of praise for Layton.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Layton had told him when they spoke last month that they would meet in the House of Commons in the fall.

"This, sadly, will no longer come to pass," Harper said in a statement.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I salute Jack's contribution to public life -- a contribution that will be sorely missed."

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger also spoke about Layton's passing on Monday.

"You know, he's a guy who attracted people with his spirit and attitude -- a guy that generally loved people and in response people liked him and loved him back," said Selinger.

Former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent also spoke about Layton's passing.

"There's absolutely no illusion these are big shoes to fill," said Broadbent. "He was an outstanding leader, but part of his leadership was setting the foundation for others."

In Winnipeg, a gathering to remember Jack Layton was scheduled to be held at the Lo Pub & Bistro, 330 Kennedy Street, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Monday. 

A book of condolences has also been set up in the front lobby of the Manitoba Legislative Building.

The book will remain in place until the building closes at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29 and will be later given to Layton's family, said provincial officials.

- with reports from CTV's Jeff Keele and Jon Hendricks, and files from The Canadian Press