Gord Downie, fighting cancer, to walk audience down ‘Secret Path’ of indigenous pain

Downie set to return to stage with 'Secret Path'



OTTAWA — Gord Downie’s powerful performance in the last concert of the Tragically Hip’s summer tour is now seared into the Canadian collective consciousness.

The pained anguish at the moment of the dropped microphone during “Grace, Too” and the unexpected political and social call to arms to help indigenous Canadians were a prelude to a final elegant song that told us there was “no dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

That nationally broadcast concert of the Tragically Hip in Kingston, Ont., in August just may have been a dress rehearsal of sorts.

Like the tragic 12-year-old muse of Downie’s latest solo project — a multimedia fusing of music, film and social activism â€” the Hip frontman is still grinding forward, one step at a time, in an appeal to awaken something he sees embedded in a guilty Canadian conscience, something as firmly rooted as the terminal brain cancer he continues to fight.

Downie’s fight resumed Tuesday night at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa where he received a standing ovation before the first note of the show.

The musician took to the stage for the multimedia performance of his new album, “Secret Path,” which tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ont., 50 years ago this weekend.

Downie’s music and lyrics were accompanied by a graphic novel, as well as an animated film that was screened as a visual component of Tuesday’s one-hour performance.

Downie, backed by a five-piece band, played the new album start to finish as the stark blue-tinged, black and white film depicted a scared, shivering, rain-soaked boy walking to his death.

Dressed in jeans and a buttoned up denim jacket, adorned with a poppy, Downie walked in place at times, in unison with the figure on the large screen above.

The singer sang and didn’t speak, his voice clear and piercing, and the rapt auditorium absorbed it all in silence, offering a smattering of applause. It was as if they felt that showing too much enthusiasm might somehow offend the raw story unfolding on stage.

Forty-seven intense minutes after it started, they stood again cheered some more.

Downie’s older brother, Mike, had introduced the singer to Wenjack’s story after hearing a radio documentary several years ago. But then Downie was diagnosed late last year with glioblastoma, an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer. He later went on tour with the Hip.

But he had unfinished business and has been rehearsing for weeks for two shows, the first one Tuesday night in Ottawa and the second in Toronto on Friday. That post-tour work has been a form of physical, emotional and mental therapy, his brother said in a pre-show interview.

“Gord’s making his life count,” said Mike Downie.

“This is his most important work, his most powerful work, and I think it’s going to live forever. I think in many ways, Chanie’s story is going to live forever as well. And I guess they’ll be together forever.”

Hundreds of residential school survivors and indigenous leaders were invited to Tuesday’s performance.

“Gord is walking a path towards his death as well,” said Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

Moran said many people who were working on Canada’s recently completed Truth and Reconciliation Commission were secretly hoping that a popular figure such as Downie would emerge to take up their cause and prevent the final report from being consigned to a dusty shelf.

“What I hope happens is that we hold him up, and the country holds him up and gives him as much strength and cheers him on as much as we can collectively so he can continue this critically important work.”

Pearl Achneepineskum, Chanie Wenjack’s older sister, recalled how Downie and his brothers travelled to their remote northern Ontario community of Ogoki Post last month to present the completed “Secret Path.” They played the opening track, “The Stranger,” on a laptop computer, and they leafed through the stark drawings in the accompanying graphic novel.

“He captured everything that was there â€” the isolation in the forest, the fear he must have had being alone,” Achneepineskum said Tuesday.

Now, she said, there is an unbreakable bond between her family and the Downies.

“It’s almost like another brother â€” that sort of connection.”

Downie has also started a fund to raise money in Wenjack’s memory, which his brother Mike said will be the singer’s legacy.

“These things burn hot and bright and then they start to dim,” said Mike Downie. “But the fund â€” the idea is to keep that going.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Surrey council approves free two-hour parking at city hall, around hospital

Although council gave its blessing to offer the free parking Monday (Nov. 19), it was already made free last week

Surrey School District says it needs 7 new schools in next decade

Surrey council endorsed the district’s 2019-20 capital plan on Monday, Nov. 19

Surrey Fire Service to provide non-emergency dispatch services for Port Moody

It’s said the move will bring in more than $9,000 a year for the City of Surrey

Second person dies following head-on collision in Surrey

Paige Nagata of Abbotsford was in crash on Nov. 4 that also killed Sarah Dhillon

Man still in hospital after struck by car in Surrey last week

The man was airlifted to hospital with “potential life-threatening” injuries after the incident

White Rock pier light show

Dancing lights highlighted off the water front

Laine scores 3 as Jets double Canucks 6-3

Injury-riddled Vancouver side drops sixth in a row

Deportation averted for Putin critic who feared return to Russia

Elena Musikhina, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, has been granted a two-year visitor’s permit in Canada

B.C. to allow Uber-style ride hailing services to operate in late 2019

Fee will be applied to fund options for disabled people

Auditor general takes aim at Liberals’ fighter-jet plan

Suditor general Michael Ferguson is about to release a new report on Canada’s attempts to buy new fighter jets

B.C. couple converts ambulance into a traveling home

The Revelstoke couple plan on touring B.C. ski hills then driving to Mexico

Cyclist defecates, throws own poop at car following B.C. crash

Man defecates in the street before throwing it at a driver locked in her vehicle

11 years sought for Burnaby man who killed girlfriend with hammer, burned her body

Manslaughter sentencing hearing started Monday in Chilliwack for Ryan Armstrong

Jamie Koe, other curlers kicked out of bonspiel for being too drunk

‘You don’t kick around other players’ bags, it’s disrespectful and we expect better of our players’

Most Read