For those of you who have no clue who Gord Downie is, you are likely either not Canadian, or were born after the 90s. Gord Downie is the front man for the iconic Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. This band lives in the hearts of millions of Canadians and they are something we can basically call our own, as for some unknown reason they never really made it big anywhere else.
This morning, Gord Downie passed on. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 terminal brain cancer in early 2016. In the true spirit of the band, they decided to do one final farewell tour across Canada so that all of their loyal fans could enjoy the energy, performance, and great music, live on stage, one last time. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) even aired the final show, in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario. The Tragically Hip is such a big part of being Canadian that our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was even there, singing along.
So, by now you may or may not be wondering why I am calling Gord Downie a real Canadian hero. Yes, his music touched the hearts of millions, but it is because of how he has used his voice, time and time again, for the voiceless. Gord Downie stands up for those who are often not heard and advocates to bring awareness to a dark part of Canadian history and issues that are currently plaguing the First Nations people of Canada.
At the end of their very last show, Gord Downie didn’t draw attention to his own illness, and didn’t ask for money to be raised for cancer charities. Instead, Gord Downie addressed Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and vocalized his fears that the Indigenous people of Canada are perhaps in more dire straits today than they have ever been. He said he believed that Trudeau could help bring about meaningful change and called upon all Canadians to “be more mindful of northern affairs.”
This meant the world to thousands of Indigenous people across the country, as this performance and announcement was broadcast on live television with millions of people tuning in. Leaders in the Indigenous population say Downie’s words are accurate and thanked him for taking the time out of his final performance to speak up for their community across the country despite his own struggle.
The Secret Path
From the Secret Path website:
“Gord Downie began Secret Path as ten poems incited by the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died fifty years ago on October 22, 1966, in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, walking home to the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. Gord was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled “Charlie” by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story from February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.””
The stories Gord’s poems tell were fleshed into the ten songs of Secret Path with producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin. Recording took place over two sessions at the Bathouse in Bath, Ontario, in November and December, 2013. The music features Downie on vocals and guitars, with Drew and Hamelin playing all other instruments, except guest contributions by Charles Spearin (bass), Ohad Benchetrit (lap steel/guitar), Kevin Hearn (piano), and Dave “Billy Ray” Koster (drums).
In winter 2014, Gord and Mike brought the recently finished music to comic artist Jeff Lemire for his help illustrating Chanie’s story, bringing him and the many children like him to life.
Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history – the long-supressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the Residential school system – with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation.”
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This ten song album was released by Arts & Crafts accompanied by Leire’seighty-eight page graphic novel published by Simon & Schuster Canada. Secret Path was released on October 18th of this year in a deluxe vinyl and book edition and as a book with album download.
Downie’s music and Lemire’s illustrations inspired The Secret Path, an animated film was broadcast by CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23. The Secret Path and Road to Reconciliation panel discussion can be watched at cbc.ca/secretpath.
What Can You Do?
Regardless of Downie’s death, his efforts still live on. Proceeds from the sale of Secret Path will be donated to the Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba. Money is also being raised for the Gord Downie and Charlie Wenjack Fund that focuses on cross-cultural education to support the healing and recovery of the Indigenous population, as well as directly supporting the NCTR.
You can purchase a copy of the book, album, or film to support this initiative directly, or simply donate by following this link. Share this article to help raise awareness about this important cause to finally try and bring about true reconciliation for the First Nations Peoples of Canada, and the horrible atrocities that they were forced to endure. It’s time to make amends, and you can be a direct part of that!
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