Sunday September 18, 2016

Dying for an Education: The story that inspired Gord Downie's latest project

Gord Downie's (left) latest project, Secret Path, was inspired by the story of Chanie Wenjack (right).

Gord Downie's (left) latest project, Secret Path, was inspired by the story of Chanie Wenjack (right). (CP/CBC)

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Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie is helping to bring national attention to one of the most haunting legacies of the residential school system — the children who never made it home.

In a few weeks, Downie is releasing a multimedia project devoted to the story of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack. The 12-year-old Anishinabe boy died of hunger and exposure after he escaped from a residential school in Kenora, Ont., and tried to find his way home.

Secret Path includes an album with 10 new songs based on poems written by Downie. There's also a graphic novel by award-winning author Jeff Lemire, based on Downie's telling of Wenjack's story.

An animated film that brings the music and illustrations together will be broadcast on CBC-TV on Oct. 23, the anniversary of the day Wenjack's body was found 50 years ago.

All proceeds from the project will be donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

For Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Downie's commitment is something those who are working to advance reconciliation have been waiting for. 

"Gord is one of the most high-profile people that's lent his voice to this cause of reconciliation," Moran said.

"So by Gord forging a path ahead and leading by example, and saying, 'Hey, wake up, we got work to do here Canada,' it's really, really significant." 

To find out more about Chanie Wenjack's story, click the button above to hear Jody Porter's documentary, Dying For an Education.