It’s been almost a year since Canada lost one of our most beloved musical icons. Gord Downie was a unifier in a country that often mystifies its citizens by its size, its diverse and fragmented makeup, its vast natural beauty and majesty, its political polarity, its troubled history. He was the soundtrack, whether raging in the foreground of our high school parties or being played through the impressive sound system we could later afford in our 30s and 40s, Gord’s poetry and wisdom resonates.
One year after his passing, a group of Canadian artists have come together to celebrate his life and music in a special event on October 18 in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. The evening will feature music by The Tragically Hip/Gord Downie, interpreted and celebrated by great Canadian talents including Tom Wilson (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings), Danny Michel, Trent Severn, Matthew Barber, Damnhait Doyle, Twin Flames and Kids In The Hall’s Bruce McCulloch. The evening is produced by the multi-talented Kevin Fox.
If you have come in contact with Canadian music over the last number of years, chances are that you have either seen or heard Fox’s work. As an instrumentalist, composer/arranger, he has recorded and toured with countless artists, from Justin Bieber and Olivia Newton John to Steven Page and Chantal Kreviazuk.
Fox, like so many other Canadians, was in awe of Gord.
“When I was playing with the artist Andrew Cash in the 90s we shared the stage a number of times with The Tragically Hip. I was a young musician, eager to learn everything I could about the Canadian music scene and the skills needed to survive. The Hip, like so many other Canadian bands and musicians, were my mentors. I spent my time quietly observing and taking in everything I could. They are part of the bedrock that make me who I am today,” remembered Fox.
“Gord was always so kind with his time and energy. Always approachable and giving of himself. I will forever be grateful for the time I had the opportunity to spend in his presence.”
After learning of his terminal diagnosis, Gord spent his final months speaking out in support of Indigenous rights, declaring: “Canada is not Canada. We are not the country we think we are.”
Nearly 12 million Canadians watched The Hip’s final televised concert in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario as Gord called on the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all Canadians to act, now. He was trying, in his small way, to illuminate the calls to action of Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In his final months, Downie created The Secret Path, the story of Chanie Wenjak, and ultimately an acknowledgement of a dark part of Canada’s history — the long-supressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system — with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation. He created the Downie/Wenjak Fund as a final legacy before his passing on 17 October 2017.
Fox and many of his Canadian musical friends now continue Downie’s work, doing their part to answer his call to action.
“For me, the process of producing this event has been the start of an enlightening and educational journey that Gord felt we all need to take to truly recognize the plight of First Nation communities. It’s well past the time that we all get to work on the reconciliation process. That process remains daunting to me and I don’t have solutions however I am determined to do my part my curiosity and compassion,” said Fox.
With this concert event, the PAC has also made a five year commitment to raise funds for the Downie/Wenjak Fund and to create a Legacy Space at the PAC dedicated to providing accurate information regarding Indigenous history and our journey of reconciliation. The spaces are meant to be safe and welcoming symbols and reminders for employees, students and guests of the important work each of us needs to do if the promises of this country are to be fulfilled.
“Any positive, constructive contribution to the reconciliation process is of value I hope,” Fox added.
Gord’s Legacy takes place at Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on October 18. More information can be found at firstontariopac.ca. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Box Office.