Monday, 23 October 2017

Kingston Trip – Part 2: Gord Downie Memorial & Chanie Wenjack

I had to put these photos into a separate post. We spent Friday night in Kingson and visited Market Square in the afternoon.

Canada lost a beloved poet/musician. The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie's band, originated in 1984 in Kingston, with high school chums who were an amazing band over their 30 years. Unlike many Canadian artists, Downie refused to leave Canada to seek his fortune in the US. He was born in Amherstview, which we passed through on day 2 of our Kingston trip.
The Hip – c1988

Moyia Misner-Pellow  - Flickr
In 2016, the band announced that Gord Downie , their amazing front man, had a brain tumour. It was gioblastoma, that same kind of tumour that my dad had. Dad's was mostly surgically removed in 2005, then it came back with a vengeance in 2006. While Dad (1925 - 2007) ended up in a wheelchair, having difficulties with speech, Gord Downie's tumour was in a different region of the brain. Downie had radiation and chemo, but it was incurable. He was told not to go on the road, as he'd faced severe memory issues, but his doctor and his brothers made it so. He had six monitors at the shows, to cue him with the words. He had difficulty with facial recognition. During an interview, he'd write the name of the interviewee on his hand.

The Tragically Hip undertook a final Canadian tour, so that their fans could say goodbye to Gord Downie, and Gord could say goodbye to Canada. He was an amazing poet, musician, environmental advocate, humanist, with many awards and many, many Canadian fans. The final concert, in Kingston on Aug. 20, 2016, was broadcast across Canada, ad-free. It was spectacular.

Gord died Oct. 17th (1964 – 2017), and Kingston is in mourning. Flags are half-mast everywhere. There are many signs mourning his loss. There will be a celebration of life at some point, it'll be a grand event, I am sure. He was loved so much.

Gord Downie wrote songs that are authentically Canadian, diverse, and rich in feeling, images and emotions. Bobcaygeon is my favourite tune, and I hear it often in my mind's eye. The town of Bobcaygeon we passed often, travelling between Ottawa and Muskoka.
Population 3500,
10,000 in summer!
When I left your house this morning, 
It was a little after nine 
It was in Bobcaygeon, 
I saw the constellations 
Reveal themselves, one star at time

Downie's last work was "The Stranger, "(see theYouTube video) which chronicles the heartbreaking story of a young First Nations boy, who died trying to run away from residential schools. This is the first full chapter and song of The Secret Path. Adapted from Gord Downie’s album and Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel, The Secret Path chronicles the heartbreaking story of Chanie Wenjack’s residential school experience and subsequent death as he escapes and attempts to walk 600 km home to his family. He was not the only child to die this way.

Gord was honoured by First Nations, for his work on this project, one of our steps in Truth and Reconciliation in recovering from the horrific treatment of our First Nations peoples by colonial settlers right across North America.
Gord was honoured by First Nations
Today is the 51st anniversary of the day Chanie Wenjack (Jan. 19, 1954 – Oct. 23, 1966) died, alone and starving in freezing rain after trying to run away. The Secret Path and Road to Reconciliation panel discussion can be watched at

This is the memorial in Market Square, with mural paper for signatures, as well as a book I signed. In the evening, people were gathering to sing Downie's songs, and celebrate his life, with the square lit by a red light.


Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

He left quite a legacy!

William Kendall said...

His grace and courage facing that was something to admire. The country is less bright without him.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
Canada and the near and dear of Mr Downie have my condolence; I am learning of him only here in your wonderful post Jenn; the world desperately needs such as he. YAM xx

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Obviously a well loved and very courageous artist. It brought back personal memories for you as well as those you share with all who loved this band. life sure seems hard sometimes.

Red said...

I really like your post on Gord Downie as you have a good mix of the man and his background.

Anvilcloud said...

What a fine tribute. I never followed the man, but he seems like a great one.

Nancy J said...

Thanks Jenn for the post, lovely caring words and the links. A man so missed, treasured and valued , remembered always.

Debbie said...

he sounds like a wonderful artist and man, how sad!!