October 23, 2017
We all knew the day was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with, or the heartbreak hurt any less. The Tragically Hip’s inimitable frontman Gord Downie died on October 17 after a battle with terminal brain cancer.
In the week following, tributes to Downie have poured in from everywhere. Of course, numerous celebrities and artists took to Twitter and other social media sites to pay their respects, including Ryan Reynolds, Joel Plaskett, and Neko Case. Across the country, communities celebrated him in various ways. The sign outside Toronto’s city hall was lit up red and white, and dimmed at 11 p.m. on October 18; on October 19, the Peace Tower bells in Ottawa played a rendition of the Hip’s “Bobcaygeon”; in Downie’s hometown of Kingston, a massive, impromptu memorial happened outside city hall last Wednesday, and Kingston Transit’s buses flashed signs that said, “Gord, we’ll miss you.”; numerous tributes were paid to Downie across the NHL, including the Toronto Maple Leafs lowering Bill Barilko’s banner (Barilko’s story was immortalized in the Hip’s “Fifty Mission Cap”); residents of Bobcaygeon held a candlelit vigil; the Canadian flag at the House of Parliament was lowered to half-mast; CBC moved up the premiere of the new Tragically Hip documentary A Long Time Running to October 20; Downie’s family released a statement on Gord’s passing via his website; and prime minister Justin Trudeau delivered a heartfelt and teary-eyed speech about Downie’s significant contributions to Canadian culture, and his efforts to make the country better, and his dedication to reconciliation.
Since announcing his diagnosis in May 2016, Downie had used his considerable platform as a beloved Canadian artist to shine a light on reconciliation. His final solo record Secret Path, released exactly a year and one day prior to his death, tells the true story of a young Anishinaabe boy named Chanie Wenjack, from Marten Falls First Nation, who died trying to walk back home from a residential school in 1966. All proceeds from the record and accompanying book, drawn by Jeff Lemire, are donated to the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation project. In the wake of Downie’s death, Lemire has made a special print available, and proceeds from the sale of it will go to the Downie Wenjack Fund, committed to improving the lives of First Peoples.
Downie’s family is currently looking into holding a public memorial for the late singer, whose brother Mike says is, “something that Gord would like and appreciate.” And while it may be time for mourning, Downie leaves us with at least one final piece of art. Introduce Yerself, a 23-track double album produced by longtime friend and collaborator Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, comes out this Friday, October 27. You can view the trailer here.