Our Buddy Gord

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I got out of bed this morning about a quarter after 9, when, like the rest of Canada, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie. And while I can’t profess to have known the man, it was like I had lost a friend. We all did. Justin Trudeau put it best in his tearful goodbye to “Our buddy, Gord.”

Gord’s love for Canada was palpable. He was a patriot. He loved every inch of this country, from the Big Smoke to the smallest unknown hole-in-the-wall town. He loved the Al Purdys and Bliss Carmens, the Trudeaus and Barilkos. I’ve heard his music and poetry described as the most beautiful, elegant Canadiana – in a can. I tend to agree. He’s the reason I know that Bobcaygeon is a community in eastern Ontario, and not just some obscure lyric in a Hip song.

But even in his unconditional love for this country now known as Canada, his patriotism wasn’t blind. He believed the country he loved could be better – had to be better, for everyone.

Since his terminal brain cancer diagnosis was made public in May 2016, Downie had dedicated himself to reconciliation. The Hip’s final tour culminated in a performance, watched live by a third of Canada on the CBC, where he called out the Prime Minister and the rest of Canada to address the inequity faced by Indigenous people.

After the final performance of the Man Machine Poem tour, he even spent some time in James Bay and snapped selfies with Cree fans.

Through the Wenjack Foundation, Downie sought to reconcile the idea of Canada with the machine of Canada. He was even recognized by the Assembly of First Nations, becoming a fixture at their annual meetings, and was honoured with an Indigenous name, Wicapi Omanis (“Walks With The Stars” in the Lakota language).

He never had to do any of it. He wasn’t born an Indigenous person, never faced the institutionalized or casual racism that we do, but he saw it and chose to devote much of his final chapter to making a difference.

I leave you with his words from the Secret Path website. “We are not the country we thought we were. History will be re-written. We are all accountable… We weren’t taught it; it was hardly ever mentioned.

“All of those governments, and all of those churches, for all of those years, misused themselves. They hurt many children. They broke up many families. They erased entire communities. It will take seven generations to fix this. Seven… We are not the country we think we are.”

And an excerpt from “Mystery,” by Wicapi Omanis:

We’ve got “world enough and time”

And “wither youth” comes or goes

I hope you’ll always think of me as “mine”

and not one of those.

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