Passing of a Canadian Legend
This morning Canada woke to sad news from the music industry. Today, we say good-bye to an amazing Canadian artist, writer, musician and an important activist for Indigenous issues and communities.
Gordon Edgar Downie of The Tragically Hip (aka The Hip), passed away last night, October 17, 2017, after a long grueling battle with glioblastoma, an incurable form of brain cancer. The diagnosis came in spring 2016. The world was told that his passing would only be a matter of time. Deep down inside, we all hoped that it wasn’t true. That some how he would escape the odds.
Gord strived to make a difference in this world. Using his ability to weave words to tell the stories that aren’t glamourous, stories we needed to hear. He made us look at our history and how we treat others around us. The ugly truth that we were taught to be ignorant of. He made it his mission to bridge an understanding between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. He passed at the young age of 53.
Gord spoke directly to the hearts of Canadians, drawing on Canadian ancestry, historical events, and giving fame to some of our small towns. Even if one wasn’t a Hip fan, they could still relate to the lyrics. He sang about what makes us Canadian.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented today on Gord’s passing, “We are less a country without Gord Downie in it.” This is just a small symbol of how much Gord was loved and admired.
Gord was a performer and he refused to conform to any rules imposed by society. One of the things that stands out was his eclectic style of dancing when he sang. One can’t help but get swept away with the music and his freedom of expression when watching him perform. Prose flows from his heart, his body moving as if in a hypnotic, trance-like state. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to search YouTube for The Tragically Hip Live. Gord gets taken away by his craft and love for his art pours out of his soul.
After being diagnosed, Gord became determined to go on tour for the band’s fourteenth album, Man Machine Poem. He was going out on his terms although he would never admit that this was his farewell tour. He wanted to thank his fans for their endless support over the 30 years by giving the one last party.
15 shows were planned. The first show in Victoria, BC on July 22, 2016. The final show in Kingston, Ontario on August 20, 2016. Many felt that it would be a miracle if he made it to the Ontario show. It’s amazing what the human spirit can achieve.
The demand for tickets created chaos as scalpers, using scalper bots to purchase tickets, took two-thirds of available tickets. The greediness of scalpers, cashing in on the band’s hard work and labour of love, infuriated the band, fans and the government. The Ontario government later introduced laws to prevent scalpers from using the scalper bots to buy tickets and sell them to fans at incredibly marked up prices.
The band did what they could to allow more fans to see their shows by reworking their stage and adding more dates than originally planned. Just so more people could come to celebrate with them.
Gord made it through the tour. The final concert was broadcast across Canada on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). To say the concert was amazing is an understatement. People at the event, people in their homes, people across the country felt pride in the fact that Gord made it through the full tour. He demonstrated poise, courage and incredible strength to complete such a feat. As I watched from home, I could sense the excitement of the crowd. Canadians sending their love out to a band that reminded us how awesome Canada is.
After the tour, Gord focused on speaking publicly to help Indigenous communities across the country. Canada has a disgusting history of residential schools and Gord was determined to make sure their stories were told.
The Secret Path is the story of Chenie Wenjack who escaped residential school and died as he attempted to make his way back home to his family, 600 kilometers away. Chenie was one of thousands of First Nation children who were abused, mistreated and forced to speak someone else’s language. If you are interested in learning more about Chenie Jack, search the Maclean’s article from 1967. It can be found on Maclean’s website.
Gord, his brother and the Wenjack family created the The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. This foundation works with Indigenous and Non-indigenous people in support of reconciliation.
So, today we say farewell to an amazing Canadian. Gord was a part of every Canadian. No matter where your ancestors came from, there is some of all of us in his words.
Thank you Gord for your amazing strength, courage and determination to leave this world and country a better place. You will be forever in our hearts.