TORONTO – A boisterous celebration of youth empowerment took on a solemn tone as Gord Downie appeared at We Day to continue championing the cause of reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Less than 24 hours after his concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Downie stood before thousands of students gathered at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Tuesday for a multimedia performance of “The Stranger” from his new album “Secret Path.”
The new collection of tunes by the Tragically Hip frontman was inspired by the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died while fleeing the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ont. This weekend will mark the 50th anniversary of Chanie’s death.
Proceeds from “Secret Path” will be donated to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation through The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
His latest solo project comes on the heels of the Hip’s recent summer concert tour following the announcement that Downie is battling terminal cancer.
Prior to his performance, a hush fell over the audience as they watched a short film excerpt documenting his visit to Ogoki Post, Ont., to meet Chanie’s family and share his “Secret Path” project.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done. And by ‘best,’ I just mean it helps my heart a little bit,” Downie is heard saying in the voice-over narration.
“This is what I want to do. Nothing else really matters to me.”
Sporting a fedora and clad in denim with a poppy affixed to his jacket, Downie’s vocals sounded strong and clear.
Similar to the Ottawa show, an animated film was screened as a visual component of the performance.
At the conclusion of the song, Downie stepped away from the mic and started mimicking the motions of a robot, slowly walking towards the front of the stage and sinking to the ground before springing back up. He acknowledged the cheering audience with a brief salute before heading off stage.
Downie’s older brother, Mike, then followed to speak of the plight still faced by indigenous children in remote communities. He spoke to the We Day audience about how many youngsters must leave home to attend high schools, and are put into boarding houses or billeted with families they don’t know.
“These teenagers, like you, need to be home with their families. Their communities need high schools and they need them now,” said Mike Downie.
“The kids that go away to high school, some of them do OK. But many others fall through the cracks. They end up on the streets. They enter into cycles of addiction, and many never make it home.”
While there is “no single solution for reconciliation,” Mike Downie said the fund will help “launch many boats” to help improve the lives of “our indigenous brothers and sisters.”
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