Tragically Hip fans gather for a candlelight vigil by the water's edge in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, Wednesday night, to pay tribute to singer Gord Downie who died on Tuesday night at the age of 53. The town was immortalised in one pf the band's most-loved songs.
Photo Credit: CP / Fred Thornhill

Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip: life and legacy

Gord Downie, was the charismatic singer-songwriter and leader of Kingston, Ontario’s most famous band, the Tragically Hip.

Downie died on Tuesday, October 17th and the national outpouring of grief has caught some Canadians by surprise.

“You can make it big, without leaving the country”

Ken McLeod is an associate professor at the University of Toronto. He teaches Music History and Culture.

He says he’s amazed at the size of the reaction to Gord Downie’s death, but he understands the depth of it.

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McLeod says Gord Downie, and the band’s work, “obviously spoke to the Canadian identity, to a large degree, perhaps bred of our long northern nights and our connection to the land and our connection to work itself, this kind of enigmatic poetic imagery that perhaps paralleled the enigma of our own national identity.”

Some have described the band, known more affectionately as, The Hip, as Canada’s favourite bar band as they crossed the country back and forth playing live in support of over 14 albums in 33 years together.

Songs, by the band, such as ‘Bobcaygeon’, and ‘You Are Ahead By a Century’ have become sing-along classics in Canada.

Gord Downie blows a kiss to the audience during a ceremony honouring him at the AFN Special Chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Que., December 6, 2016. Among the tweets of tributes from fans of Downie were some that appeared less than heartfelt – messages from corporate brands including Hudson’s Bay and Chevrolet Canada. Downie died Tuesday night after a public battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. © CP/Adrian Wyld

They received numerous music awards including 16 Juno Awards.

“I don’t think anybody’s fused such a kind of hard-working unpretentious rock sound but fusing it with a sort-of an existential artistic literary soul.” McLeod says.

Neil Young shared his thoughts on Thursday morning. “You have always been a true Canadian artist,” Neil Young wrote on his Facebook page. “My condolences to your whole family and all of Canada. What a great gift of music you have left here for us all.”

McLeod says Gord Downie and the band’s work “obviously spoke to the Canadian identity, to a large degree, perhaps bred of our long northern nights and our connection to the land and our connection to work itself, this kind of enigmatic poetic imagery that perhaps paralleled the enigma of our own national identity.”

As Canadians begin to become aware of the outrageous injustices suffered by the indigenous people of Canada following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Residential schools, Gord Downie got involved and in his final years created a legacy of music, words and images to help people understand the pain and suffering.

‘Secret Path’ is the project he worked on with Jeff Lemire, that tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, the twelve year-old boy who died fifty-one years ago this weekend, on October 22, 1966 trying to get back home escaping the Residential school he’d been taken to.

In the final concert in Kingston, Ontario, Gord Downie challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more for the cause of reconciliation.

“I think what we may remember him most for is a type of musical healing, using music as a vehicle both for political change and for healing: healing the violence perpetrated on First Nations for example,  healing in the sense of the fight against brain cancer research and perhaps even a notion of bringing out country a little closer together.” McLeod says.

“I think one of the big legacies that the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie leave us with is the knowledge amongst other Canadian artists, that you can make it big, without leaving the country.” McLeod says, adding, “we are as a country big enough and self-sufficient enough to celebrate and support our own culture”.

“Rest in peace legend. So glad we got to meet and have this conversation. You will be forever treasured by this country and missed by the world.” That’s what Drake, another superstar Canadian talent posted yesterday beside a photograph of the two of them meeting in a crowded stadium.

Posted in Arts and Entertainment, History, Society

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