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'Canada's folk laureate' Gordon Lightfoot turns 80

As Gordon Lightfoot returns to his hometown for a special concert on his 80th birthday, we examine the ties between his roots and his music.

On his 80th birthday, CBC Archives returns to Muskoka, Ont., with Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot, from the Jan. 1, 1967 CBC TV special 100 Years Young. (CBC Still Image Library)

This Nov. 17 marks Gordon Lightfoot's 80th birthday, and the singer-songwriter has chosen to celebrate the milestone by giving a gift to his hometown.

He's making a stop in Orillia, Ont., on his birthday, to perform a benefit concert for the Opera House and the Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital.

In 1967 when CBC-TV's Telescope profiled the young "folk laureate," the program opened with Orillia as the backdrop. 

Telescope host Fletcher Markle summed up Lightfoot as "a country boy whose home territory encouraged an awareness of nature and weather, and the simplicity of open spaces that is echoed lyrically in many of his songs."

'The country that I grew up in'

Lightfoot talked with Telescope about the influence of of the countryside of his boyhood on his music, as he sat, surrounded by the rocks of the Canadian Shield.

Gordon Lightfoot talks about the Canadian Shield, and how the images in his songs are drawn from around Orillia. 0:41

He went on to explain that the "little landscapes, or images" that come up in all his songs are not particular images, but just a backdrop for the "idea and the concept that you're working on."

'I dig Canada'

A couple of years later, Lightfoot sat with some Vancouver teens on CBC-TV's Down Centre, and talked about how writers and performers like himself brought folk music into the mainstream.

One young woman asked him when he first started to write songs about Canada.

Gordon Lightfoot talks to Vancouver teens about not writing songs about Canada -- per se. 0:44

"They're not specifically about Canada, you see ... I've never contrived a Canadian song."

Lightfoot clarified that "there were a few times when I wrote novelty songs, but it's the atmosphere of Canada that are in the songs." 

He added: "The fact that I am a Canadian and that I dig Canada and the landscape of Canada and the geography and everything, just comes out in these songs."

Gord's Gold, sculpted in bronze

Gordon Lightfoot poses beside the bronze statue unveiled in his honour at Barnfield Point, on the Gordon Lightfoot Trail in Orillia, Ont., on Friday, October 23, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill)

In 2015, a bronze sculpture honouring Lightfoot was unveiled in Orillia. 

A close-up of an image from the 2015 Orillia statue designed by Timothy Schmalz, honouring Gordon Lightfoot. The image depicts Gordon Lightfoot's song Steel Rail Blues. (CBC Archives/The National)

It depicts a young, bearded Lightfoot, seated with a guitar, surrounded by maple leaves. 

Some of the leaves have pictures that depict the 20 songs from his album Gord's Gold.

Lightfoot was present for the unveiling. Asked how he liked the concept of the depiction of his songs on the leaves, he was enthusiastic in his appreciation for them, pointing out that it was particularly appropriate on a beautiful autumn day in Orillia. 

Gordon Lightfoot comments on 0:28

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