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Looking for a place to happen

Gord Downie, lead singer and lyricist of the Tragically Hip, is Canada's unofficial poet laureate.

In May, the band announced that Downie had incurable brain cancer.

As the Hip gear up for the finale of their current tour on Aug. 20, CBC News offers an interactive road trip of the Canadian locales in Downie's lyrics — and the stories behind them.

Millhaven
Montreal
Golden
Sault Ste. Marie
The 100th Meridian
Saskatoon
Springside Park
Highway 401
Bobcaygeon
The Horseshoe Tavern
Thompson
Churchill
Lake Ontario
Algonquin
Toronto
Algonquin
Vancouver
Rosedale
Clayoquot
Cape Spear
Niagara
Isle aux Morts
Newfoundland
Lake Memphremagog
Etobicoke
Toronto
Mistaken Point
Moonbeam
Athabasca
Toronto
McBurney Park
Glenora
Sudbury
Attawapiskat
Calgary
Sarnia Millhaven Montreal Golden Sault Ste. Marie The 100th Meridian Saskatoon Springside Park Highway 401 Bobcaygeon The Horseshoe Tavern Thompson Churchill Lake Ontario Algonquin Toronto Algonquin Vancouver Rosedale Clayoquot Sound Cape Spear Niagara Falls Ferry near Lake Memphremagog Newfoundland dog Lake Memphremagog Etobicoke Millhaven Mistaken Point Moonbeam Athabasca Queen of the Furrows McBurney Park Glenora Sudbury Attawapiskat Calgary Sarnia
A feature by John Mazerolle
Millhaven
38 Years Old
38 Years Old
Twelve men broke loose in seventy-three
From Millhaven maximum security
Twelve pictures lined up, across the front page
Seems the Mounties had a summertime war to wage
Millhaven (Ron Bull/Getty)
Up to Here
Up to Here, 1989

Millhaven Institution is a maximum security prison in Bath, Ont., near Kingston.

The song is based on Gord Downie's childhood memory of 12 men escaping from Millhaven in 1973, according to the authors of Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995.

It was actually 14 convicts in 1972, and the rest of the song is fiction.

Downie does have a brother Mike, as referenced in the song, which led some fans to believe the lyrics about Mike killing a man in revenge for a rape were true. They're not.

Up to Here
Up to Here, 1989
Photo: Millhaven Institution. (Ron Bull/Getty)
Montreal
Montreal
Montreal
The snow is so merciless
Poor old Montreal
In spite of everything that's happened
Yeah, in spite of it all
Montreal (CP)
Unreleased
Unreleased, written from 1989 to 1991

Montreal was written in response to the shooting deaths of 14 women at École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989.

Arguably the strongest of the Tragically Hip’s unreleased songs, it was slated to be part of the album Road Apples (1991) but was never recorded.

The song, angry and grieving in equal measure, includes the lyric "Don't you worry/Her mama's gonna make her look good," which could be a reference to the burial of one of the victims.

During a performance of the song in Montreal, Downie introduced it, somewhat cryptically, by saying it was "about the identification process."

The file of the recording is from the Hip fan site A Museum After Dark.

Up to Here
Unreleased, written from 1989 to 1991
Photo: Montreal in a snowstorm. (CP)
Golden
The Luxury
The Luxury
The Golden Rim Motor Inn
Soft water and colour TV
So consumed with the shape I'm in
Can't enjoy the luxury
Road Apples
Road Apples (1991)

There was a real place called the Golden Rim Inn in Golden, B.C., just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Apparently the band stayed there once after their tour bus broke down in the mountains.

The establishment is now a Days Inn that advertises wireless internet instead of its colour TVs.

Road Apples
Road Apples (1991)
Photo: The Golden Rim Motor Inn in Golden, B.C. (Corby Hart)
Sault Ste. Marie
Born in the Water
Born in the Water
Smart as trees in Sault Ste. Marie
Victorious mother tongue
Passing laws just because
Singing songs of the English unsung
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont (Fungus Guy/Wikipedia)
Road Apples
Road Apples (1991)

The song lashes out at Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.'s 1990 declaration that it was an English-only city, a controversial decision made during the national debate over the Meech Lake Accord.

The Soo’s declaration was struck down by the courts and a subsequent mayor later apologized for it.

All is forgiven, bassist Gord Sinclair told fans in 1996:

"To... suggest that we should boycott the city or would allow this one event to permanently colour our feelings towards the people there is as stupid and intolerant as the event which prompted the song."

Road Apples
Road Apples (1991)
Photo: The Sault Ste. Marie Museum in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Fungus Guy/Wikipedia)
100th Meridian
At the Hundredth Meridian
At the Hundredth Meridian
Me debunk an American myth?
And take my life in my hands?
Where the Great Plains begin
At the hundredth meridian
At the hundredth meridian
Where the Great Plains begin
Road Apples
Fully Completely (1992)

This concert staple is perhaps less Canadian than it seems — it references the U.S. twice, the Netherlands once and the video was filmed in Australia.

But what the hey: the 100th meridian is in Canada (and the U.S. and Mexico), and is indeed more or less where the Great Plains begin (or end).

During live performances, Downie sometimes changes the opening lyric to “Me debunk a Canadian myth?”

Road Apples
Road Apples (1991)
Photo: Free-roaming bison in Grasslands National Park, Sask. (Tracy Munson)
Saskatoon
Wheat Kings
Wheat Kings
Sundown in the Paris of the prairies
Wheat kings have all their treasures buried
And all you hear are the rusty breezes
Pushing around the weather vane Jesus
Up to Here
Fully Completely (1992)

Wheat Kings is about David Milgaard, wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of Gail Miller in 1969. Milgaard spent more than two decades in prison before he was released in 1992.

Downie, writing to Bob Mersereau for the book Top 100 Canadian Singles, said the song "is entirely about David Milgaard and his faith in himself. And about his mother, Joyce, and her absolute faith in her son's innocence.

"And about our big country and its faith in man’s fallibility. And about Gail Miller, all those mornings ago, just lying there, all her faith bleeding out into that Saskatoon snowbank."

Up to Here
Fully Completely (1992)
Photo: Broadway Bridge in Saskatoon, Sask. (Neil Fisher)
Springside Park
An Inch an Hour
An Inch an Hour
Tonight the winter may have missed its mark
You can see your breath in Springside Park
Coffee-coloured ice and peeling birch bark
The sound of rushing water in the dark
Day for Night
Day for Night (1994)

Springside Park is in Greater Napanee, Ont., not far to the west of the Hip’s hometown of Kingston. It includes a cascading waterfall. If Downie’s lyrics are known for their Canadiana, water is probably their most common motif.

Whether it's rain falling "in real time" or "Tom Thomson came paddling past," it’s a rare thing for three songs to go by on a Hip album without some reference to water.

"Water is stronger than rock," Downie once wrote in an online chat with fans. "Water threatens to, at anytime, flood in and obliterate the chalk drawing. We leave a temporary impression similar to that of a hull on the surface of the sea. I could go on and on."

Day for Night
Day for Night (1994)
Photo: Heron in Springside Park in Napanee, Ont. (Trey Eden)
Highway 401
Titanic Terrarium
Titanic Terrarium
There's a trace o' mint
Wafting in from the north
So we don't f--k with the 401
It's bigger than us or
Larger than we bargained
I guess it's just not done
Trucks on the 401 (CP)
Day for Night
Day for Night (1994)

Titanic Terrarium is one of Downie's favourites songs lyrically, according to Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995.

"It envisions the planet as the great unsinkable ship, likewise at the mercy of those who built and steer her," the authors write.

The authors say the lesson lies in avoiding human arrogance, illustrated by the song's example of staying off Highway 401 when the weather gets bad.

Day for Night
Day for Night (1994)
Photo: A stretch of Highway 401 in Toronto. (CP)
Bobcaygeon
Bobcaygeon
Bobcaygeon
It was in Bobcaygeon
I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves
One star at a time
Stars over Bobcaygeon (Getty)
Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)

Perhaps the most famous Canadian location in the Tragically Hip's catalogue, Bobcaygeon is a community in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario — in other words, cottage country.

Downie has often said the song is about a cop from the big city (Toronto) and a girl from the country (Bobcaygeon), though in later years he's mused aloud that maybe it's about two men.

"Small town, lots of stars, you know," Downie told a San Francisco radio station in 1998. "You could use any town, really, you want. Bobcaygeon rhymes with constellation. Sort of."

Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)
Photo: Long exposure of stars over Bobcaygeon, Ont. (Getty)
Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
Bobcaygeon
Bobcaygeon
That night in Toronto
with its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback
and keeping order restored
Til the men they couldn't hang
Stepped to the mic and sang
And their voices rang
with that Aryan twang
The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (Getty)
Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)

Downie has said the bar in this song is on Spadina Avenue, which means it's almost certainly Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern (which is technically on Queen Street, near Spadina). The iconic bar does in fact have checkerboard floors.

The Men They Couldn't Hang is the name of an actual British band and one of their most popular songs is about a 1936 riot between anti-fascist groups and London's Metropolitan Police, who were protecting a fascist march. ("With courage we shall beat those Blackshirts down.")

Downie's lyrics may therefore be an allusion to a number of anti-Semitic riots that have happened in Toronto, most notably the Christie Pits riot of 1933.

Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)
Photo: The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto. (Getty)
Thompson, Manitoba
Thompson Girl
Thompson Girl
Thompson Girl
I'm stranded at the Unique Motel
Thompson Girl
Winterfighter's shot on the car as well
Looks like Christmas at 55 degrees
This latitude weakens my knees
Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)

Thompson, Man., is in fact at 55 degrees latitude, "where opportunity is endless," according to the city's website. The narrator of the song begs to differ, referring to the winter as a siege to be endured.

"Grunt work time between dream state and duty," Downie croons, which is also how he was describing touring at the time.

"This is grunt work," he told CBC in 1999. "What I'm doing is the daily life. It's where the grist is. It's in the travelling."

Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)
Photo: The T-1 mine in Thompson, Man. (City of Thompson)
Churchill, Manitoba
Thompson Girl
Thompson Girl
Thompson Girl
Walking from Churchill
Across the icy world
With polar bears it's mostly uphill
But when she saw that nickel stack
She whistled hard and I whistled back
Polar bear at Churchill, Manitoba (CP)
Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)

Churchill, which is in Manitoba's far north, is polar bear central.

A good reason to head south, maybe, but the walk from Churchill to Thompson would be a long one at 400 km.

Unless you have a plane or a train, that may be what you have to do, because there's no access road. And after all that ice and snow, the Vale nickel operation in Thompson might be a whistle-worthy sight.

Phantom Power
Phantom Power (1998)
Photo: Polar bear, Churchill, Man. (CP)
Lake Ontario
Lake Fever
Lake Fever
I'll tell you a story
About the Lake Fever or
We can skip to the coital fury
You didn't say
Yes or no, neither
You whispered, 'Hurry.'
Lake Ontario at Toronto (Library and Archives Canada)
Music@Work
Music@Work (2000)

Lake Ontario is not name-checked directly, but the "lake fever" in question is a cholera outbreak that arrived in the Town of York, now Toronto, by ship in the 1800s.

Downie described the love song before a performance in 2000.

"He's all intellectual saying, 'You know on these very shores, just off these shores, there were boats that weren’t allowed to dock 100 years ago because of cholera.'"

"And he's sort of saying, 'Would you like to hear a story or have sex?' And she’s saying 'Hurry,' which is kind of ambiguous. And I think she’s sort of saying, 'First the story, then the sex.'"

Music@Work
Music@Work (2000)
Image: Lake Ontario at Fort York. (Library and Archives Canada)
Algonquin
Lake Fever
Lake Fever
Want to be your wheezing screen door
Want to be your stars of Algonquin
Want to be your roaring floorboard
Want to break the hearts of everyone
Algonquin Park, Ontario (Eve Kraicer)
Music@Work
Music@Work (2000)

Algonquin is Ontario’s third-largest provincial park, roughly a four-hour drive north of the Hip's stomping grounds in Kingston.

The song is in part the story of two young lovers discussing a cholera outbreak, but this passage seems to simply be a poetic way of saying, "I want to be your everything."

The first half of this section of the song is the only place in the Hip's catalogue that guitarist Paul Langlois takes lead vocal.

Music At Work
Music@Work (2000)
Photo: Canoes tethered in Algonquin Park, Ont. (Eve Kraicer)
Toronto
Toronto #4
Toronto #4
Tell me when it's imminent
So you won't have to rise and fall alone
Or endure the wonder of survival
The wipe-out loss
The elation of free fall
The rock bottom
The sweet betrayal
Alone
CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario (CP)
Music@Work
Music@Work (2000)

Downie said in 2000 that this song was inspired by a phone call from his brother about his ailing grandmother, the Tragically Hip fan site A Museum After Dark says.

The song's lyrics are a tribute to her and a promise to be bedside when death comes.

Toronto is referenced in the title only, and its significance is unclear.

Music At Work
Music@Work (2000)
Photo: CN Tower, Toronto. (CP)
Algonquin
The Bear
The Bear
I think it was Algonquin Park
It was so cold and winter-dark
A promised hibernation high
Took me across the great black plate of ice
Now I’m the Islander
Music At Work
Music@Work (2000)

This is the second mention on Music@Work of Algonquin Park, which is about 300 km from the band's hometown.

The song seems to be, in part, about a bear that finds itself being hunted by men when it accidentally ends up on an island.

Bears turn up a number of times in the Hip's discography. Problem Bear and Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park are two strong songs from the back half of their careers, while Downie is stalked by a polar bear in the video for Yer Not the Ocean.

Music At Work
Music@Work (2000)
Photo: Bear cub, Algonquin Park, Ont. (Rob Marchand)
Vancouver
Vancouver Divorce
Vancouver Divorce
I love your paintings
— don't take your colours away
I've grown more fearful of them every day
Swimming up their dark rivers to discover your source
A source of strange and unrequited remorse
And I found the end of the world, of course
But it's not the end of the world, of course
It's just a Vancouver divorce
Mountain Forest, Emily Carr (CP) (CP)
Coke Machine Glow
Coke Machine Glow (solo album, 2001)

"Imagine if your relationship was predicated on where you live," Downie said before a 2010 performance of this song, the second track off his first solo album. "In other words if you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere."

This marital breakdown between the narrator and a painter also has two other Canadian signposts in its verses.

It includes a reference to the ceremonial last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and mentions an even more venerable Canadian institution: Tim Hortons ("Sitting here at the Hortons/So you know this is important").

Coke Machine Glow
Coke Machine Glow (solo album, 2001)
Image: Mountain Forest, Emily Carr (CP)
Rosedale
Nothing But Heartache In Your Social Life
Nothing But Heartache In Your Social Life
When are you thinking of disappearing?
When the evacuation’s underway
And not for all the pot in Rosedale
Could you possibly get them to stay?
Runners in Rosedale, Toronto (CP) (CP)
Coke Machine Glow
Coke Machine Glow (solo album, 2001)

Rosedale is an affluent Toronto neighbourhood a little north of the downtown core. This deeply weird spoken-word track off Downie's first solo album includes filmmaker Atom Egoyan on classical guitar.

Egoyan had used Downie's music in his 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter. This pairing led to one of the most Canadian cultural convergences ever: a Canadian-made movie set in British Columbia starring Toronto's Sarah Polley, who on the soundtrack sings Courage, a Tragically Hip song with a passage lifted from The Watch That Ends the Night, a Montreal-based novel by Nova Scotia-born author Hugh MacLennan.

Coke Machine Glow
Coke Machine Glow (solo album, 2001)
Photo: Joggers in Rosedale, Toronto. (CP)
Clayoquot Sound
Silver Jet
Silver Jet
Silver jet, a satellite, a green star
Silver jet way overhead
Silver jet evergladed grey sheers
Silver jet, so far off already
Silver jet Clayoquot Sound to Cape Spear
Clayoquot Sound, B.C. (CP) (CP)
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

Clayoquot Sound is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which Downie contrasts with Cape Spear, the easternmost point of the country.

Downie and Clayoquot Sound have a history. Logging of the area's ancient, old-growth forest drew global attention in the early 1990s, and Downie was one of the writers (along with Daniel Lanois, Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett and Hothouse Flowers' Liam Ó Maonlaí) of the 1993 song Land, which raised money for the Clayoquot Defence Fund.

Downie’s verse in Land comes back to his frequent motif of water ("Water's not just the purity...").

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Clayoquot Sound, B.C. (CP)
Cape Spear
Silver Jet
Silver Jet
Silver jet, a satellite, a green star
Silver jet way overhead
Silver jet evergladed grey sheers
Silver jet, so far off already
Silver jet Clayoquot Sound to Cape Spear
Cape Spear, N.L. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

Cape Spear is the easternmost point in Canada. Downie wrote in 2002 that Silver Jet is "just another in a long line of tunes praising the greater glory of the mute machines [i.e. airplanes] that make us... that put us together... in our place."

The rest of the song's lyrics, with references to the Bible, Shakespeare and Hollywood, are indicative of how Downie likes to make immediate use of any inspiration.

"I generally use it up, as Raymond Carver would say, and don't save a thing for later," he told the Toronto Star in 2010.

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Lighthouse on Cape Spear, N.L. (Shutterstock)
Niagara Falls
A Beautiful Thing
A Beautiful Thing
The phone rings and it brings Niagara Falls
And 3 o'clock in the morning
"You'd better be dyin" — and you were —
So we talked about time
And where it went
Niagara Falls, Ontario (CP) (Shutter)
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

"'You'd better be dyin'... isn’t that how most people answer the phone when it rings at 'ungodly' hours?" Downie wrote on the Tragically Hip’s website in 2002.

Downie said that the song was inspired by one of his favourite children’s stories: Miss Rumphius by American Barbara Cooney.

"In this story, Miss (Alice) Rumphius moves through her life from young girl to old woman, emulating the life of her grandfather (to travel the world... to return to her house by the sea...) and trying to honour his request: 'You must do something to make the world more beautiful.'"

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Niagara Falls, Ont. (Shutterstock)
Isle Aux Morts
The Dire Wolf
The Dire Wolf
In that September off
Isle aux Morts
The desultory sea
Grew more so through the night
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

Isle aux Morts is a small town in southwest Newfoundland, not far from the ferry terminal where boats arrive from North Sydney, N.S.

During a performance in 2009, Downie said that despite the timeframe in the lyric, the song was inspired by a rough ferry crossing in February.

The song follows the pattern of Sea Surface Full of Clouds, a poem by Wallace Stevens: "In that November off Tehuantepec/The slopping of the sea grew still one night."

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Ferry near Isle aux Morts, N.L. (Kelly Davis)
Newfoundland
The Dire Wolf
The Dire Wolf
At the Dire Wolf's best
The Newfoundland paused
So desperate as
To be a lost cause
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

It's unclear at various points in this song whether "the Newfoundland" is a reference to the island or the dog species indigenous to the area. Given that the Dire Wolf is a stand-in for the ocean, it's a reasonable guess that Downie means both.

"This is yet another tale of maritime woe," Downie wrote online when the album was released. "I feel a certain pride in adding The Dire Wolf to the list of descriptive phrases that aspire and fail to describe the sea. It is, after all, one's job as a writer to try."

Downie notes that with their webbed feet, Newfoundland dogs have saved "many an imperiled fisherman."

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Bella, a Newfoundland dog. (Floyd Garrett)
Lake Memphremagog
Problem Bear
Problem Bear
Writing a song about
Lake Memphremagog
And tonight I don't believe
There are words to spare
And be a tip and a nod
Admitting it's half the defeat
Lake Memphremagog, CP. (CP)
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

Lake Memphremagog is a lake that straddles the Quebec-Vermont border, and sits in an area that has frequent bear sightings.

Downie loves to take disparate ideas, put them in the same song and see how it all sorts itself out (such as a hockey card and a bomber-pilot's fifty-mission hat).

In Problem Bear, he references "two tough-talking goalies really going at it" and contrasts it with an apocryphal quote about Voltaire’s dislike of Shakespeare. As one does.

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Lake Memphremagog, Que. (CP)
Etobicoke
Ultra Mundane
Ultra Mundane
To make it inside
With a wristband, alright
To see Etobicoke coyotes
To get pretend scars
To see like a pair
To feel as welcome
As a sneeze in a motorcycle helmet
In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)

Given the line about a wristband, Gord Downie may be imagining a rock band or sports team called the Etobicoke Coyotes.

But coyotes are an issue in Etobicoke (and other parts of Toronto), as they sometimes go after cats and dogs.

The stuffed coyote pictured here was on display in front of a local bakery. When the bakery closed, the coyote was never seen again.

In Violet Light
In Violet Light (2002)
Photo: Stuffed coyote in Etobicoke, Ont. (Eric Chudnoff)
Toronto Christmas
Christmastime in Toronto
Christmastime in Toronto
'Always the wind
And the persistent snow
Gets into your eyes and your mouth
And every fold of your coat'
Everyone hates you
But they don't know what I know
Besides, it's Christmastime
Christmastime in Toronto
Toronto, Ontario (CP) (CP)
Battle of the Nudes
Battle of the Nudes (solo album, 2003)

Christmastime in Toronto is a love letter to the city. While three of the Hip's five members still live in Kingston, Downie moved to Toronto soon after the band's career took off.

He was quick to give the musical community there the opportunity to open for the Hip during tours and other events at the height of their popularity.

Downie's favourite lyric in the song isn't by him: the "persistent snow" quote is from The Wife by Anton Chekhov:

"Again the flying horses, the strange voice of drunken Nikanor, the wind and the persistent snow, which got into one's eyes, one's mouth, and every fold of one's fur coat..."

Battle of the Nudes
Battle of the Nudes (solo album, 2003)
Photo: Toronto skyline. (CP)
Toronto
Fly
Fly
There's Mistaken Point,
Newfoundland
There's Moonbeam,
Ontari-ari-o
There are places I've never been
And always wanted to go
World Container
World Container (2006)

Mistaken Point is a spot in extreme southeastern Newfoundland — so named because if you mistake it for nearby Cape Race, you’ll end up running aground.

Downie has said the song is about emigrants.

"I fly, 'cause woe betide a guy who just lives to fight," the lyrics say. Downie can be heard riffing on the lyrics during the band’s 2005 concert film, That Night in Toronto.

World Container
World Container (2006)
Photo: Mistaken Point, N.L. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)
Moonbeam
Fly
Fly
There's Mistaken Point,
Newfoundland
There's Moonbeam,
Ontari-ari-o
There are places I've never been
And always wanted to go
World Container
World Container (2006)

Moonbeam is a township of 1,100 in rural Ontario roughly halfway between Toronto and Thunder Bay.

Its biggest claim to fame is arguably its roadside novelty "flying saucer."

The way Downie sings “Ontari-ari-o” is likely a nod to A Place to Stand, a Place to Grow (Ontari-ari-ari-o!), a provincial theme written in 1967.

World Container
World Container (2006)
Photo: Flying saucer attraction in Moonbeam, Ont. (Luc Boudreau)
Athabasca
The Depression Suite
The Depression Suite
Don't you wanna see how it ends?
When the door is just starting to open?
When Athabasca depends?
Don't you wanna see how it ends?
Athabasca, Alberta (CP) (CP)
World Container
We Are the Same (2009)

The Hip's longest song, The Depression Suite moves between three stories in three locations: one in a Chicago hotel room; another in a New Orleans casino; and this final story about a relationship breaking down in the chill of an oilsands camp.

Downie said during a 2009 concert that the song goes "straight north to the northern part of northern Alberta, which is like Florida without the ocean, up to the tar sands to a little trailer that I promised you was no mansion."

The song includes the lyric "I didn’t come to get lost in the Barrens," which could be a reference to Lost in the Barrens, a novel by late Canadian author Farley Mowat. (The novel’s alternate title: Two Against the North.)

We Are The Same
We Are the Same (2009)
Photo: Workers residence, Athabasca, Alta. (CP)
Toronto Furrows
Queen of the Furrows
Queen of the Furrows
"'Win Toronto!'
Yelled the Queen of the Furrows
'This is how we farm
'Hens cluck and roosters crow
'You are my heart
'Staring down from the bureau
'To be apart? Is that why you have to go?'"
World Container
We Are the Same (2009)

Queen of the Furrows is a pageant held in some agricultural areas. The P.E.I. Plowing Match and Agricultural Fair says it judges girls in this competition in five categories: scholastic, talent, plowing, evening wear and an interview with judges.

It's not clear exactly what "Win Toronto!" means, though the song might be about a relationship with an urban-rural divide.

World Container
We Are the Same (2009)
Photo: Michelle Hynes, Queen of the Furrows, 2010 Dundas Plowing Match, Dundas, P.E.I. (Angus MacAskil)
McBurney Park
Skeleton Park
Skeleton Park
In Skeleton Park,
One fine summer evening
The sun teased the dark,
like the last strawberry
I could hear them on the breeze
Hear them moving through the trees
The ghosts of the Rideau Canal start to sing
World Container
We Are the Same (2009)

McBurney Park in Kingston, Ont., is better known as Skeleton Park.

The site used to be the city's primary burial ground and may contain as many as 10,000 bodies, some of which are very near the surface. Among those buried at the cemetery were workers on the Rideau canal killed in a malaria outbreak in the early 1800s.

Remains turn up from time to time, including the year We Are the Same was recorded.

This recording comes from the Tragically Hip fan page A Museum After Dark.

World Container
We Are the Same (2009)
Photo: McBurney Park, Kingston, Ont. (Will S.)
Glenora
Moon Over Glenora
Moon Over Glenora
There's a smudge of moon over Glenora
Ferry spotlight's on the ice ahead
And over your shoulder
And through the snowflakes
There's an aloneness
The Grand Bounce
The Grand Bounce (2010)

Glenora, Ont., is a small community in northern Lake Ontario, on the southern shore of the Bay of Quinte. It's reachable by a free, 15-minute ferry ride from the community of Adolphustown.

Downie said before a live performance in 2010 that the song is about the ferry operator and the drudgery of riding the boat back and forth while everybody else gets to leave — then again, Downie may just have been ad-libbing.

The Grand Bounce
The Grand Bounce (2010)
Photo: Ferry near Glenora, Ont. (Brian Westhouse)
Sudbury
The Dance and Its Disappearance
The Dance and Its Disappearance
In orangey glows
And sudbury yellows
We are the dance
And its disappearance
Sudbury, Ontario (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
The Grand Bounce
The Grand Bounce (2010)

Sudbury is the most populous city in northern Ontario. Whether Downie is referring to sun, pollution, the city's iconic Flour Mill silos, the shade of paint Sudbury Yellow or a combination thereof is anyone's guess.

The inspiration for the main thrust of the song is clearer: a quote from Canadian dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite, who said dance is an "extreme expression of the present," because it disappears immediately and leaves no artifacts. "We embody both the dance and its disappearance."

To which Downie wrote: "Dancers say the coolest things."

The Grand Bounce
The Grand Bounce (2010)
Photo: Smokestack in Sudbury, Ont. (Shutterstock)
Attawapiskat
Goodnight Attawapiskat
Goodnight Attawapiskat
Attawapiskat
City by the Bay!
A diamond dazzling
O Attawapiskat
You're on your way
Attawapiskat, Ontario (Reuters) (Reuters)
Now for Plan A
Now for Plan A (2012)

The Hip travelled to Fort Albany, Ont., near Attawapiskat, in 2012 as part of a celebration of Cree culture and education. The band previously wrote a song about First Nations issues called Now the Struggle Has a Name (2009).

The "diamond dazzling" is likely a reference to the Victor Diamond Mine near Attawapiskat. The mine is controversial because some people don't believe nearby aboriginal communities see a fair amount of the economic spillover.

"I'm maybe not painting an accurate picture," Downie told CBC in 2012, speaking about the song. "But at least I'm trying to paint a picture that isn't the picture we all kind of just accept and forget about."

Now for Plan A
Now for Plan A (2012)
Photo: Attawapiskat, Ont. (Reuters)
Calgary
Take Forever
Take Forever
When I broke down
I always thought I'd go to Calgary...
Calgary to have my heart attack
Calgary the place to do it
It's a fact
Calgary, Alberta (CP Photo) (CP)
Now for Plan A
Now for Plan A (2012)

Take Forever is, in part, a song about flying to see a loved one. It includes some of the "man machine poem" imagery Downie used on the Hip's 2012 album Now for Plan A, around the time his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as the band’s latest record. ("She’s the poem, I'm the machine," he told CBC News.)

Why would Downie say that Calgary is the best place to have a heart attack? Because it is.

A 2010 study done by scientists at the University of Calgary showed that the city is the most advantageous place to have a heart attack because of its access to life-saving angioplasty at the Foothills Medical Centre.

Now for Plan A
Now for Plan A (2012)
Photo: Calgary skyline. (CP)
Sarnia
In Sarnia
In Sarnia
Oh you're in my heart
And in my pockets and in my eyes
In my blood
Sarnia, you're on my mind
Sarnia, Ontario (CP Photo) (CP)
Man Machine Poem
Man Machine Poem (2016)

As the latest geographic name-check in the Tragically Hip's catalogue, In Sarnia hasn't been talked about in interviews.

But it appears the story might be as simple as Sarnia sounding right: the lyrics on Man Machine Poem's sleeve are Gord Downie's scribbled notes, and they appear to show that the song was originally called Insomnia. The word is scratched out in the relevant places and replaced with "In Sarnia."

The song has another Canadian connection: it quotes a member of the comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, and more poignantly than one might expect.

The lyrics quote Bruce McCulloch's memoir Let's Start a Riot when Downie sings, "The love you're given will pour right through your hand, if you don't know who you are."

Man Machine Poem
Man Machine Poem (2016)
Photo: NOVA Chemicals plant in Sarnia, Ont. (CP)
Tragically Hip road marker
Design and Development: Dwight Friesen, Elizabeth Melito and Richard Grasley, CBC News Interactives
Imagery from GIScience Research Group @ University of Heidelberg — Map data © OpenStreetMap