'Keep this awakening alive': Gord Downie's brothers remember his legacy and look to what's next
Mike and Patrick Downie want to take advantage of the moment to further Gord's efforts toward reconciliation.
The country was shaken this week with the news that Gord Downie had died after his public fight with brain cancer. Downie was, in many ways, the music version of Canada's poet laureate, and everyone from the prime minister to the band's millions of fans took to social media to express not just their grief, but also how the late musician inspired them in his final months.
But none more so than Gord's brothers, Mike and Patrick Downie, who are determined to continue what Gord started that night two summers ago in Kingston, when he challenged the country to do something about the conditions Indigenous people face in Canada. The minute that final Tragically Hip concert ended, Gord's mission was to make progress on the long road to reconciliation, which is something he'd still want to be front and centre as people mourn.
Above, they open up about what's next and look back on fond memories they shared with Gord.
"The outpouring has been beautiful," says Mike. "If we could harness part of that and keep people moving in the direction that Gord started moving in himself toward reconciliation, that would be something really positive to come out of the tragic loss of a great guy who had a lot more to give."
Mike is referring to the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which was set up in attempt to assist reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Patrick adds that while the grief is still very fresh, and the entire Downie family is "feeling tender. It's not unlike that last show in Kingston where Gord suddenly realized he had this huge audience and he could say something and take advantage of the attention and put it to work.... We'd be remiss if we didn't take advantage of the attention that he's getting to do some actual work, to put it into something."
The seeds for the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund were planted with Downie's Secret Path project, which recounted the final moments of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy who escaped a residential school more than 50 years ago, only to die attempting to walk the 600 kilometre trek home. Following the Kingston concert, the three Downie brothers travelled to Ogoki Post, where they showed the Wenjack family the Secret Path project in order to get their blessing. It was the first time they had all met and it was a "powerful experience" for everyone, says Mike. On the way home, they talked about finding a way to keep the momentum going beyond the project. "There had to be a way to keep this awakening alive."
So far, the fund is focused on awareness, education and action, even diverting funds to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which is actively attempting to find more children whose fates were similar to that of Wenjack's.
"There's unmarked graves surrounding all these residential schools, which are gone now," says Mike. Secret Path is also being taught in more than 40,000 classrooms across the country, and part of the fund goes to designing and disseminating materials so students can learn about this part of Canada's history.
But as much as his brothers want to carry on what Gord started, there is still a huge part of them that simply wants to mourn their family member. Part of that comes with remembering what Gord was like day to day. The singer was known for his love of hockey, and Mike recalls the incident that ignited Gord's love for the goalie.
"Gord was in his first year of minor hockey, we used to go to this rink called Centre 70," Mike says. "We were coming home at the end of a season, last game, Gord's team was in the finals and Gord was a defenceman I think. Anyway they lost the game, and we're in the car.... He's pissed off. The goalie let them down, they had this team and they had a great season and they lost the final game. I remember the conversation along the lines of, hey don't blame the goalie, you know as the wiser older brother, and Gord's like, next year I'm gonna be the goalie."
And sure enough, he was.
"That season, Gord got 15 shutouts and they won Centre 70 minor Atom championship," says Mike. "And I gotta tell you, he was good."
For more information on the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund and how you can take part, go to downiewenjack.ca.
For more from Mike and Patrick Downie, be sure to watch The National tonight at 9 p.m. ET. They will also appear on Monday's q broadcast.
The Downie family is hoping to plan a public event to help fans mourn Gord Downie, with details still to come.