Gord Downie, enigmatic front-man for Canadian super group the Tragically Hip announced last week his new album is dedicated to Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old aboriginal boy who escaped from a residential school only to be killed by a train as he followed the tracks to where he hoped was home, 400 miles away.
The album, Secret Path along with a novel and film are set for an October Release. All proceeds from the project will support the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
Downie writes in a statement released last week:
Mike Downie introduced me to Chanie Wenjack; he gave me the story from Ian Adam’s Macleans magazine story dated back in February 6, 1987, ‘The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.’
Chanie was a young boy who died October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School to walk home. He didn’t know that Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids — more than anyone will be able to imagine — he tried. I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him.
Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s history. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were. History will be rewritten. We are all accountable, but this begins in the late 1800’s and goes to 1996. “white” Canada knew — on somebody’s purpose — nothing about this. We weren’t taught it: it was hardly ever mentioned.
All of those governments and all of those churches, for all of those years, misused themselves. They hurt many children. They broke up many families. They erased entire communities. It will take seven generations to fix this. Seven. Seven is not arbitrary. This is far from over. Things up north have never been harder. Canada is not Canada. We are not the country we think we are.
I am trying in a small way to help spread what Murray Sinclair said, “This is not an aboriginal problem. This is a Canadian problem. Because at the same time that aboriginal people were being demeaned in the schools and their culture and language were being taken away from them and they were being told that they were inferior, they were pagans, that they were heathens and savages and that they were unworthy of being respected – that very same message was being given to non-aboriginal children in the public schools as well. They seem to know that history includes them.
I have always wondered why, even as a kid, I never thought of Canada as a country – It’s not a popular thought; you keep it to yourself – I never wrote of it as so. The next hundred years are going to be painful as we come to know Chanie Wenjack thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – but only when we do can we truly call ourselves, “Canada”.
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, 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).