Last week, the nation stood still to bid farewell to an icon.
Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, succumbed to an aggressive form of brain cancer Oct. 17. Just 53 years old at the time of his death, Downie had been battling the illness since receiving the diagnosis in December of 2015.
Although not unexpected, The Tragically Hip’s farewell tour concluded in August of 2016, the blow was nonetheless devastating to Canadians around the world.
Downie leaves behind an extensive discography of 14 albums alongside The Tragically Hip, each of which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in statement released Oct. 18, “helped [Canadians] understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home.”
Canadian culture and identity, which are notorious for their intangibility, “are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest – like Gord himself,” Trudeau said.
An environmental activist and champion of Indigenous rights, Downie’s impact on Canada was both indiscriminate and tremendously positive.
Yet as an artist, Downie rarely held himself in such regard.
“I haven’t written too many political lyrics,” Downie said in a 2014 interview, “Conversely, nor have I written any pro-Canada lyrics… That stuff doesn’t interest me and I don’t even know if I could write that if I tried because I really don’t feel it.”
Despite his humility, Downie remains to many Canadians a beacon of national pride, the likes of which is uncommon in a country which appears so outwardly meek.
So unique in his relationship to the nation, Downie’s death struck to the core of Canadians everywhere, and perhaps none so publicly as Prime Minister Trudeau.
In an impromptu and emotional press conference the day following Downie’s passing, the PM glorified the late musician’s work for it’s clear love of all things Canadian.
“He loved every hidden corner, every story, every aspect of this country that he celebrated his whole life,” he said, visibly shaken, “and he wanted to make it better.”
“We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.”
Downie’s final album, composed in the months before his death, will feature 23 tracks, written as love letters, not to Canada but to the important figures of his life.
Entitled, Introduce Yourself, the album is set for release on Oct. 27.