When we learned in May 2016 that Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, his homeland of Canada shed a collective tear. However, in the face of a nation’s sadness, Downie opted to press on and make the most out of his remaining time on this planet – with a magnified Canadian tour, revered solo album and a focus on a very important social issue.
As a result, Downie was named the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year for 2016. Today, it’s been revealed that the late musician, poet and activist has had that honour bestowed upon him for a second straight year. Downie is the only entertainer to have ever been recognized as the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year.
On Tuesday, October 17 at the age of 53, Downie – with family at his side – passed away. His nation mourned, but also celebrated his inspirational decision to not allow his illness to slow down his art, or interest in improving Canada.
In 2017, Downie focused much of his energy on continuing to encourage Canadians to better respect, recognize and connect with its Indigenous communities. Part of this endeavour meant shedding light on the past existence of Canada’s residential school system, which TheCanadianEncyclopedia.ca describes as “government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.” Sadly, these facilities contributed to families being broken up, as well as the abuse and deaths of children.
“Gord said several times that the only thing that mattered to him was getting Canadians to become aware of Indigenous lives, start to right the wrongs and move in the direction of reconciliation,” commented Gord’s brother, Mike, in an interview with the Canadian Press. “It was what he wanted to get done before his time was up.”
In June, Downie received the Order of Canada for his work on raising awareness of indigenous issues. Most importantly, however, he got people talking about an uncomfortable part of Canada’s history.
To learn more about Downie’s efforts to support Canada’s indigenous community, please visit the official website for the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund.
Musically, 2017 saw Downie win Songwriter of the Year and Adult Album of the Year JUNO Awards for “Secret Path,” an album that tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a First Nations boy who passed away in 1966 while escaping a residential school.
What’s more, “Long Time Running” – a concert film and documentary – gave fans an insightful, sometimes heart-wrenching look at The Tragically Hip’s 2016 farewell tour and what it took for Downie to get up on the stage and sing his heart out.
Shortly after his passing, Downie’s final solo album – “Introduce Yerself” – was released and subsequently received a wave of positive reviews.
-Yellow Photo by: David Bastedo Photography