Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip were uniquely Canadian. They sang about Bobcaygeon, Millhaven and Algonquin Park, about David Milgaard, Bill Barilko and the hundredth meridian. By avoiding the temptation to use neutral references and appeal to a broader or, more specifically, an American audience, they became Canada’s house band. They belonged almost exclusively to us.
For a generation born in the 1960s and 1970s, the Hip’s music was the soundtrack of their formative years. No other band would have provoked the same national catharsis with the diagnosis of Downie’s brain cancer revealed last May. Nothing else could have brought together 11.7 million Canadians, in the normally quiet summer viewing hours, to witness a live rock concert on television.
The music is one thing. But in the final months of his life, Gord Downie took his activism to another level. He wrote the Secret Path to force Canadians to confront the residential schools issue. He used his considerable currency and his vanishing energy to fight for something he cared about, transforming his legacy into so much more than just a collection of iconic Canadian songs.