Wednesday morning, Canadians woke up to heartbreaking news. Gordon Downie, lead singer of rock band The Tragically Hip, had passed away.
The band confirmed his death in a statement, saying “Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always had – making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss… on the lips.”
— The Tragically Hip (@thehipdotcom) 18 October 2017
Downie’s music was quintessentially Canadian. His lyrics connected all parts of this great nation, from the prairies to the maritimes. While most bands wrote songs about relationships, The Tragically Hip wrote about issues that really mattered to them. Wheat Kings, for example, was about a wrongfully convicted murder from Winnipeg called David Milgaard. The group put a small Ontario town on the map in the song Bobcaygeon and often sang about uniting the many cultures and regions of Canada. It didn’t matter where you came from or where you were at that moment, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip made you feel like you were home.
But Downie wasn’t just a musician. He was also a strong advocate for Indigenous reconciliation and the protection of water rights. He sat on the board of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and was part of the Swim Drink Fish Club, which brought musicians together to help protect the environment. Downie and his brother helped found The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. He often spoke publicly about the hardships and challenges Indigenous youth must overcome.
In 2016, Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and decided to tour the country one final time. Tickets sold out in minutes. The band’s final concert in Kingston was broadcast live on CBC, with over 11 million people tuned in.
While Canadians knew this day would come eventually, news of Downie’s death is still having an impact. Many grew up with his music, and many others were introduced to it over the last two years. Downie made us proud to be Canadian — and for that we will forever be grateful.
Rest In Peace.
Featured Image: The Tragically Hip play during a stop at the Orpheum in Vancouver, June 22nd, 2009, on their tour supporting their new album “We are the same.” (Scott Alexander/Pressphotointl.com)