Much has been said about Gord Downie since his passing last week.
The Tragically Hip frontman, adored by a legion of fans from coast to coast, succumbed to a rare form of brain cancer at just 53.
He and his bandmates wrote songs that pinpointed exact locations throughout our country or highlighted aspects of the nation’s history.
From the 100th meridian, “where the great plains begin,” to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Bill Barilko, whose last goal in overtime lifted the Leafs to a Stanley Cup in 1951. Barilko would die in a plane crash in Northern Ontario later that summer, though his body and the wreckage wasn’t discovered until 1962, the same year the Leafs would win the Cup once again.
There was also the mentions of the FLQ’s kidnapping of Pierre Laporte, the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard, and more than anything else, the vastness of our great land.
Whether it was intentional from the beginning or not, Downie and the Hip’s legacy will be that of nation building. For in a more than 30 year career, the musicians undoubtedly did more to teach their listeners about Canada than many learned from textbooks or lectures.
It’s a fine place to find themselves.
More than anything, communities were pulled together, one lyric at a time.
And shouldn’t that be exactly what it is all about? Forging together as one cohesive unit and drawing attention to injustice and discrimination, or the plight of those so greatly mistreated. With that, Downie was more than just a musician who worked his way out of Kingston with his bandmates in tow.
The Hip’s latest record was ready for release in 2016 when the band made Downie’s diagnosis public. But, instead of going quietly into the night, they plowed onward and hit the road for a string of shows across Canada. In the moment, Downie realized the platform, however cruelly, he had suddenly been afforded. With it, he shone a spotlight on the country’s Indigenous population, which has been treated so poorly for so long. He raised the spectre of the residential school system, even calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in front of thousands of people during the band’s final show in their hometown.
Canada is one big community, and when neighbours are in need, mobilization of resources is required to see that help is provided.
Past the music there must be passion for good that comes from the mourning.
Downie’s loss, though, is great. One Twitter user said it best last week with, “Canada closed. Death in the family.”