The passing of a legend
Gord Downie quietly passed away on Tuesday, October 17.
He was known as the legendary front man for one of Canada’s most prolific bands Tragically Hip, as well as a rock icon, writer, occasional actor and activist.
He passed from the aftermath of glioblastoma which is a brain tumour that holds one of the poorest survival rates of any cancer after his diagnosis in late 2015. After finishing “Man Machine Poem Tour” in 2016 as a decision to give the band a proper send off, he then went on to work on Secret Path.
Secret Path was created by Downie as 10 poems that were inspired by the story of Chanie Wenjack. Wenjack was a 12-year-old boy that died trying to return to his family from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora some 400 miles away from his home on October 22, 1966. Wenjack had tried to follow train tracks home but died of exposure.
Downie came into hearing the story of Wenjack from his brother Mike Downie, who shared the Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack” from February 6, 1967 with him. The poems were then fleshed into 10 songs that connect with Canada’s dark history and helps to light up a path for reconciliation.
When Downie pointed a finger at Canadians during the finale of the Man Machine Poem tour in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario, beseeching Canadians to “do something” to help repair the relationship with Onkwehon:we, there was applause. His performances to follow the final tour of his band were the kind of performances that made the audiences in WE Day concerts silent. His focus revolved around sharing Chanie Wenjacks story alongside Pearl Wenjack in mid-October of 2016.
The Secret Path inspired a film broadcast by CBC in an hour-long special that aired on Sunday, and is accessible on cbc.ca/secretpath on the Road to Reconciliation panel discussion. While Secret Path arrived on Wednesday, October 18, in a deluxe vinyl and book edition, and a book with an album download created with the help of comic artist Jeff Lemire brought Chanie to life with his illustrative prowess.
The proceeds from the sale of Secret Path will then go to the Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation through The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) located at the University of Manitoba. In other words, the funds will go towards the preservation of the history of residential schools in Canada, moving forward on the path of reconciliation and to finding the missing children.
While the Wenjacks and Downies are also raising money for the newly created Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund which operates out of the Toronto Foundation and focuses on cross-cultural education to support healing and has already received $14,000 in support. Both Funds embody the Wenjacks and Downies commitment to improving the lives of Onkwehon:we, and hope to continue to make connections for reconciliation.
A statement from his family on the Gord Downie website provided some closure for fans:
“Last night Gord quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by. Gord knew this day was coming — his response was to spend this precious time as he always had — making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss … on the lips.
Gord said he had lived many lives. As a musician, he lived “the life” for more than 30 years, lucky to do most of it with his high school buddies. At home, he worked just as tirelessly at being a good father, son, brother, husband and friend. No one worked harder on every part of their life than Gord. No one.
We would like to thank all the kind folks at KGH and Sunnybrook, Gord’s bandmates, management team, friends and fans. Thank you for all the help and support over the past two years.
Thank you everyone for all the respect, admiration and love you have given Gord throughout the years — those tender offerings touched his heart and he takes them with him now as he walks among the stars.
Love you forever Gord.
The Downie Family.”