Kingston to Halifax with love: Why Gord Downie will never be forgotten
We’ve been left with the rocker's songs – our songs – to remind us of who we are as a country and become the Canada that Downie hoped we would.
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Like the cavernous boom of bass speakers during the most unforgettable concert of a lifetime, the heartbeat of Canada pumped with deep rhythmic passion from Kingston, Ont. on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
One year, one month and 27 days after the sounds of The Tragically Hip pulsed from inside hometown hockey arena the K-Rock Centre, reverberating across the country as we danced and sang along to the band’s final farewell, that heartbeat – our heartbeat – seemed to abruptly stop early Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.
After all, we woke up to the inevitable – yet still somehow unbelievable – news that one of Canada’s most cherished and recognizable voices will never sing again. The Tragically Hip’s iconic, energetic frontman Gord Downie, 53, had finally succumbed to the brain cancer he had been battling since announcing his diagnosis in May 2016.
“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 live well lived, often sealing it with a kiss … on the lips,” they wrote.
Perhaps it was because of that undeniable passion, openly on display for all to see and hear with every over-zealous dance move, carefully planned out lyric and unapologetic politic statement directed at the country he both loved and wanted desperately to improve, that makes it so hard to believe that he has left this life behind.
Even in the midst of his terminal illness, Downie toured the country to speak out on the importance of Indigenous reconciliation, fundraise for brain cancer research and entertain more than three decade’s worth of fans with their favourite tunes, with his four best high school buddies by his side.
In true Tragically Hip fashion, the band played its last concert to a sold-out crowd of 6,000 family members, friends and neighbours, while 25,000 fellow Kingstonians filled Springer Market Square to watch the show on the big screen in the heart of the small city’s downtown core, and an additional 11.7 million viewers across the country watched the “late breaking story on the CBC.”
At the time, I was working as a full-time reporter for Metro Halifax and as a native Kingstonian, was fortunate enough to snag a media seat at the concert that capped off both The Man Machine Poem Tour, and The Hip's legendary career. I wrote stories in advance of and following that concert, and my intention was to keep working through the noise, my nose in my laptop as I tried to take in a unique piece of Canadian history unfolding in my own hometown.
But as soon as those speakers started bumping, Downie’s voice rumbling the lyrics to Fifty-Mission Cap, my computer was quickly forgotten and I was up on my feet through the third Encore’s final song, Ahead By A Century. Before the night was over, I had danced, sang, laughed, cried, hugged and swayed with my fellow concert-goers, and even kissed a couple of them. I was alive.
Perhaps that feeling is what Downie has left us with. After the initial shock of his death hit us Wednesday, sounds of The Hip could be heard everywhere, filling restaurants, bars, televisions and cars across the country. Our heart started beating again.
We’ve been left with his songs – our songs – to remind us of who we are as a country and become the Canada that Downie hoped we would.
As one Hip song says, “I sure hope I’m not the type to dwell; Hope I’m a fast healer, fast as hell; Heaven is a better place today because of this; But the world is just not the same."