by EVAN MATTHEWS, editor
On Monday, the Governor General of Canada presented Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip with the Order of Canada.
The rest of the band members are to receive their presentation later.
Bands in many ways are like a team, but The Tragically Hip is, in essence, Gord Downie — the lead singer and front man of the group. If you’ve never seen the man perform live, his presence is like no other.
The Order of Canada is one of our country’s highest civilian honours, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
I didn’t really fall in love with Downie and The Hip until my later teens, but once I did there was no turning back.
For context, no other band in Canadian history has sold more records than The Hip.
Subtly, Downie and The Hip inspired my own love for storytelling. — Evan Matthews, editor
Formed in 1983, in Kingston, Ontario, they produced 14 albums, one live album, one compilation and one box set.
In a way, the band became one of our nation’s most notable record keepers, documenting national stories through poetry and song.
Subtly, Downie and The Hip inspired my own love for storytelling.
I think of the song Wheat Kings and the true story of (the wrongfully convicted) David Milgaard, for instance, or the song Fifty-Mission Cap telling the true story of Bill Barilko.
Barilko was a hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs who won the Stanley Cup in 1951, and mysteriously disappeared four months later.
“The last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup.”
Above is a great example of a lyric many Canadians know, but maybe lack the context. We’ve learned parts of Canadian history simply because The Hip introduced us to the stories.
In April 2016, Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma — brain cancer — an incurable form of the disease.
It was hard to see a Canadian icon could be taken far too soon. Downie’s pain was maybe best represented by the opening lyrics to one of The Hip’s more recent songs:
“Just give me the news. It can all be lies.”
Rather than wallow in the shadow of his terminal illness, Downie and company hit the road. The CBC broadcast The Hip’s last ever show on Aug. 20 in their hometown of Kingston.
A big part of The Hip’s final tour was drawing attention to reconciliation with our nation’s indigenous peoples. In October 2016, Downie released a multimedia project called Secret Path, inspired by the story of Charlie Wenjack: a First Nations boy who died escaping from a residential school near Kenora, Ontario.
In the last 50 years, roughly 7,000 Canadians from all walks of life have been invested into the Order. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and embodied the motto of the Order: Desiderantes Meliorem Patiram, meaning, “They desire a better country.”
Downie is an inspiration, and he’s right in his mentality. In his efforts he’s shown me we can have a better country — if we want it.
And just like he used to sing with The Hip, “Armed with will and determination, and grace, too.”