On October 17, 2017, Canada and the world lost one of its most talented and special artists. Gordon Edgar Downie, the lead singer of The Tragically Hip passed away following a long and courageous battle with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. Gord and his guys hit the road for the Man Machine Poem Tour, their farewell tour. Following the announcement in May of 2016, it was within a matter of weeks that they were on stage performing for their last times. Gord made an impact larger than measurable in this country and on the world. One year after his death, the words of the man still ring true: “Heaven is a better place today because of this. But the world is just not the same.”
The Man-Machine Poem Tour consisted of eleven shows in ten cities and went along with the band’s fourteenth studio album. The tour started in Victoria, BC and the band made their way across Canada and ended in their hometown, Kingston, ON. The final show would be televised across the country so everyone had a chance to see their favourite band one last time.
This concert took place on what happened to be the final night of the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio. Canadian athletes too stood together with their love for these men in common. The concert was broadcast in Rio for the Canadians to enjoy. CBC, the station who broadcasted the games also had the concert. I will never forget the projector set up in my backyard for the concert that night. 11.7 million of Canada’s 36 million tuned in to take in the concert on that beautiful summer evening. For a band to create that much buzz just shows how special they were and still are.
If we look at Gord’s reputation, he was known as more than just a singer. He was a poet, historian and educator. He sang about a wide range of topics, anything from Canadian criminal cases to people who were taken from us much too soon to his childhood. Gord made singing about Shakespeare cool.
In the song Wheat Kings, Gord discusses one of the most famous cases in this history of the Canadian Judicial System. Just hearing the song, you may just think it’s about the miles and miles of fields and farms in the Canadian prairies but when you really listen, you learn about the pain and suffering that David Milgaard endured. Milgaard was wrongly convicted of rape and spent years behind bars for it. Gord sang about it, he and the guys brought David on tour with him. Gord made an impact on people’s lives. He was a bright face at the end of so many dark tunnels.
Before his death, Gord worked with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada to reconcile the dark past that includes residential schools and the hope of assimilation. Gord wanted to make a change in the country and in the world. He created The Secret Path, a story with a full soundtrack.
The story deals with a young boy named Chanie Wejack who was ripped from his family and taken to a residential school over 400 miles away. He escaped from the school and started his walk home. Chanie was not dressed for the cold weather in Northern Ontario and he succumbed to starvation and exposure to the cold. The boy never made it home. Gord and his brother Mike, along with Chanie’s family started the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to improve the lives of First Nation’s peoples and help in the process to a collective reconciliation.
Gord loved Canada, it was his home and he was proud of it. Following his death, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said something that I believe proves this point stronger than anything. “Gord was my friend. Gord was everyone’s friend, it’s who we were, our buddy Gord, who loved this country with everything he had—and not just loved it in a nebulous, ‘Oh, I love Canada’ way. He loved every hidden corner, every story, every aspect of this country that he celebrated his whole life”. Trudeau continued on to say, “We are less of a country without Gord Downie in it. We all knew it was coming, but we hoped it wasn’t”. As a Canadian, I will never forget all the nights spent on the lake listening to Gord and the guys. To us, that what they were, they were just the guys.
When their songs played on the radio under the stars, it felt like they were right there singing directly to you. I wish I would have had the time to truly understand The Tragically Hip’s music years ago when Gord was still with us. Every Hip fan will tell you when they hear the first couple of seconds of Bobcaygeon, a Tragically Hip classic, or any of their other songs for that matter, a smile will come across their face like no other. Gord and his fans had and always will have a special bond. The Hip will forever be a part of Canadian culture and I don’t doubt for a second that their music won’t be passed through generations to come in this country.
Feature Image: @thetragicallyhip on Instagram