Secret Path·Video

'The most emotional thing I've ever done': Jeff Lemire on illustrating Gord Downie's Secret Path

The award-winning cartoonist urges all Canadians to learn from what happened to Chanie Wenjack.

Why all Canadians need to learn from what happened to Chanie Wenjack

'The most emotional thing I've ever done': Jeff Lemire on illustrating Gord Downie's Secret Path

7 years ago
Duration 3:51
Jeff Lemire speaks about collaborating with Downie to tell Chanie Wenjack's story.

When Gord Downie completed his new album Secret Path, he and his brother Mike Downie turned to cartoonist Jeff Lemire to illustrate a graphic novel that could visualize the story behind the music. With Downie's album on loop, Lemire — known for his award-winning graphic novels and comics that include the Essex County Trilogy, The Underwater Welder, and Sweet Tooth — spent an emotional two months drawing the book he describes as "the most emotional thing I've ever done."

The album and its graphic novel companion, Secret Path, tell the story of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who escaped from a residential school in 1966 only to die while trying to find his way home. Secret Path, published on October 18 by Simon & Schuster Canada, is a haunting imagining in pen and watercolour of the final days of Wenjack's short life.

We wanted [people] to be as moved emotionally by this story as we were so that they couldn't ignore it anymore.- Jeff Lemire

CBC Arts met Lemire at his Toronto studio where he was finishing a final drawing of Wenjack for the animated film version of the book. In this video, he speaks about collaborating with Gord Downie on this important project, and why Canadians need to know about what happened to Wenjack and the many children like him.

The Secret Path album and graphic novel were both released on Tuesday, October 18. The animated film, The Secret Path, will be broadcast on CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 9pm (9:30 NT) — with a livestream here on CBC Arts.


Mercedes Grundy is a producer for CBC's Unscripted division. She has played an integral role in the creation of series like Exhibitionists, The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag as well as special projects like Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Grundy 5 Canadian Screen Awards. She has an educational background in photography, and produces film and theatre when not busy here at the CBC.