Gord Downie and Canada

There are many faults that can be found in the worship of celebrities. But there can also be some good things.

Yesterday, October 17th, 2021, was the fourth anniversary of the passing of Gord Downie. He was the lead singer of The Tragically Hip, a poet, and a fighter. He never backed down from a fight. 

Beyond the brain cancer that he fought and ultimately lost to, he fought for parts of Canada that were swept under the rug. Upon the announcement of his terminal illness, Gord and the rest of the band set out on a national tour. A long goodbye to the country that loved him almost as much as he loved it. I was lucky enough to attend one of those shows. I cried from almost the beginning through to the end. And I wasn't alone. It seemed like everyone there wanted to sing with Gord and the boys one last time. I wasn't the only one crying, I would say most of us there were. Then a few weeks later my family joined the millions of other Canadian households and watched the final show. 

Along with the music, there was another message. For a long time, Gord had used his voice in other ways. Through him, I learned of the Waterkeeper organization which mainly focuses on ensuring that Canada's water systems stay clean for people, fish, and the environment. Another cause of his was the acknowledgment of residential schools. Through his work with survivors and their families he earned the name "Man who walks with the Stars". He used his voice and celebrity to record an album called "Secret Path". Secret Path is the story of Chanie Wenjack, a boy who did not make it home from a residential school, it also inspired the formation of the Downie Wenjack Fund. An organization that not only raises money to support those affected but also to educate the rest of us. 

The Prime Minister was one of the people in the audience in Kingston for their last show. At one point Gord paused, as he frequently did in his shows. Instead of a tangent or some kind of improvisation though Gord turned to Mr. Trudeau and reminded him of the work that still needed to be done for the Indigenous people. 

Through their music, The Hip educated many of us on pieces of Canadiana. Whether it be 50 Mission Cap about a strange coincidence involving a fishing trip and the Maple Leafs, or Wheat Kings a song about a man who was falsy accused and served 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Beyond news and history, The Hip wrote songs filled with the names of towns and cities across this country. 

While celebrity worship can lead to vapid conversations and body image issues, it isn't all bad. 


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