Gord Downie's fi­nal year cap­tured in CBC doc 'Find­ing the Se­cret Path'

Sherbrooke Record - - TALK -

Once Gord Downie set his mind to the “Se­cret Path,'' vir­tu­ally noth­ing else mat­tered. One year af­ter his death, the new CBC doc­u­men­tary “Find­ing the Se­cret Path'' shows just how fiercely de­ter­mined the Trag­i­cally Hip front­man was dur­ing his brain can­cer bat­tle to raise aware­ness about Canada's dark his­tory of res­i­den­tial schools through the story of Chanie Wen­jack.

The plight of the 12-year-old Anishi­naabe boy, who died of hunger and ex­po­sure af­ter es­cap­ing a north­ern On­tario res­i­den­tial school in 1966, in­spired Downie's the “Se­cret Path'' mul­ti­me­dia project and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wen­jack Fund that have moved fans and led to var­i­ous ini­tia­tives across the coun­try.

“If you know Gord and you know even phys­i­cally what a strong con­sti­tu­tion he had, he was a real bear,'' said Pa­trick Downie, adding that his brother “scoffed'' when doc­tors told him his ill­ness would ham­per his phys­i­cal abil­ity to per­form.

“He was like, 'I think I will be (able to per­form). I'm dif­fer­ent from every­body else.' And he was.

“If he wasn't a singer, he prob­a­bly would have been some kind of a pro­fes­sional ath­lete or some­thing. He just had that for­ti­tude and the phys­i­cal abil­ity to do it.''

Pre­mier­ing Fri­day on CBC, the CBC TV stream­ing app and cbc.ca/watch, “Find­ing the Se­cret Path'' marks the first an­niver­sary of Downie's death from brain can­cer on Oct. 17, and the 52nd an­niver­sary of Wen­jack's death on Oct. 22.

“This was a very try­ing, chal­leng­ing time for our fam­ily, this time last year and the weeks that fol­lowed,'' said Pa­trick Downie, who co-ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced the doc along with Mike Downie and Gord Downie.

The fam­ily is plan­ning a “quiet, re­flec­tive day'' to mark the one-year an­niver­sary with a small, pri­vate gath­er­ing, he added. On Oct. 27, they'll also mark the three-year an­niver­sary of their fa­ther's death.

“It's been a long, hard year, a very sor­row­ful year, where a lot of good things have hap­pened,'' said Pa­trick Downie, “and we've heard from a lot of peo­ple that feel very moved by Gord and miss his pres­ence and mu­sic and art.''

Through never-be­fore-seen footage and var­i­ous in­ter­views, the doc shows the fi­nal year of Downie's life, as he fights through fa­tigue and self-con­scious­ness about his fad­ing mem­ory to re­hearse and per­form “The Se­cret Path'' on­stage.

“If I have any pull or any push at all, this is what I want to do. Noth­ing else re­ally mat­ters to me,'' he says in the film.

Cam­eras also cap­ture Downie as he flies with a group to the re­mote vil­lage of Ogoki Post, Ont., to meet with mem­bers of the Wen­jack fam­ily and get their bless­ing on “The Se­cret Path'' graphic novel, al­bum and an­i­mated film. Trav­el­ling there was risky, con­sid­er­ing Downie had just un­der­gone two brain surg­eries and can­cer treat­ment, but he felt it was im­por­tant.

“That meet­ing and then the sub­se­quent meet­ings ce­mented a re­ally beau­ti­ful and long-last­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two fam­i­lies,'' said Pa­trick Downie.

As the doc ex­plains, “The Se­cret Path'' has not only raised aware­ness about the treat­ment of In­dige­nous peo­ple in Canada, it's also do­nated pro­ceeds to the Na­tional Cen­tre for Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wen­jack Fund. It's also led to a school ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram and a hockey pro­gram that brings to­gether kids from west Toronto and At­tawapiskat First Na­tion in On­tario.

The broth­ers hope the new doc will en­cour­age even more Downie fans to join the con­ver­sa­tion about de­vel­op­ing “a more com­plex cul­ture where In­dige­nous peo­ple have a greater say.''

“We're not speak­ing for any In­dige­nous peo­ple what­so­ever,'' said Mike Downie, who wrote, di­rected and co­pro­duced the doc.

“We're talk­ing to Gord's army and we want them to par­tic­i­pate, we want them to get in­volved, we want them to see what their kids are do­ing in school and we want them to en­cour­age their friends to learn a lit­tle bit more.

“If it starts with aware­ness, then the next stage has got to be ed­u­ca­tion and then the next stage is ac­tion _ but you need to go through those in or­der for it to make any sense.''

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