Gord Downie stood on stage. A white Tshirt. Silver pants. His trademark white hat. A coloured scarf around his neck.
The crowd was loud and clamouring for more.
It was the final show of Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour. Many expected it would be the band’s last performance.
Downie raised the mike and launched into a signature monologue.
But instead of lamenting the Hip or dwelling on his own health, the singer used the platform — a farewell concert on national television — to call out Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau and speak about Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people.
Downie said of Trudeau, who was in the crowd wearing a black Hip T-shirt: “He cares about the people way up North that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. But what’s going on up there ain’t good. It may be worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve.
“(But) we’re going to get it fixed. And we’ve got the guy to do it, to start, to help.”
Gord Downie died Tuesday, Oct. 17 after an incredible life.
In his 53 years, he penned a large part of Canada’s modern songbook, reflecting his unique lyrical genius. He entertained millions with his outspokenness and quirkiness, advocating for causes he believed in.
During his final 17 months after announcing he had glioblastoma, an incurable brain cancer, Downie fronted the Hip for one of the most successful concert tours in Canadian history.
He did so with stubbornness, determination and passion.
But Downie wasn’t quite ready to exit the stage.
His amazing encore to that final concert was selfless — raising money for brain cancer research through Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and continuing to advocate for indigenous rights through initiatives like last fall’s haunting “Secret Path” project.
Packaged as a solo album by Downie and a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, “Secret Path” told the tragic story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school.
It received critical acclaim — including three Junos — and refocused the spotlight on Canada’s Indigenous people and the mistreatment many suffered at residential schools.
In a working life filled with song — songs woven into the fabric of Canada — Downie may have saved his most important music for last.
As fans listen to songs like “Wheat Kings,” “Courage” and “Nautical Disaster” in tribute to Downie in the coming days, it’s the conversations they have about Indigenous people that will, hopefully, contribute to a better Canada.
Many of those conversations weren’t taking place before Downie spoke at that final concert or prior to the release of “Secret Path.”
Gord Downie will be remembered as a great Canadian. He personified his own lyrics: “armed with will and determination, and grace, too.”
Goodbye, Gord. Thanks.
The crowd, perhaps louder than ever now, will forever long for more.