Kingston hosts triumphant homecoming for The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip's homecoming drew the eyes of a nation to their eastern Ontario hometown, which threw a party the likes of which has rarely been seen in Kingston.

Kingston celebrates hometown heroes as it welcomes visitors for tour finale

The crowd in Kingston sways listening to the Tragically Hip song "Bobcaygeon." (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The crowd sways along to Bobcaygeon while taking in The Tragically Hip's nationally-broadcasted show in Kingston, Ont.'s Springer Market Square Saturday night. The Tragically Hip's homecoming concert drew the eyes of a nation to their eastern Ontario hometown, which threw a party the likes of which has rarely been seen in Kingston.

The rock group's Man Machine Poem tour was launched with news of frontman Gord Downie's terminal brain cancer diagnosis and ended with a nationally-televised show at Kingston's K-Rock Centre Saturday night, drawing crowds of locals and visitors alike.

"We've never seen anything like it," said Devon Cosgrove, who was helping sell kale salt from downtown business Simplywell to raise money for Downie's brain cancer research fund.

"It's bustling. The energy here... everyone is just smiling."

The Tragically Hip's music was everywhere to be heard and t-shirts everywhere to be seen hours before the show in downtown Kingston.

"It just feels like everybody has come together," said Kingston's Brenda Willis. "As a Kingston band we're all very... I almost want to say protective of the Hip. Everybody you talk to is excited for this event in Kingston today and everybody's so proud of them."

Brenda Willis (third from left) was one of the Kingstonians who came to one of Canada's biggest public viewing parties in Springer Market Square. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Hosting Canada

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson said the festivities would be one of the biggest events in the city's history, bringing 25,000 people or more to the city of 123,000 people.

"It's definitely up there. It's not every day that you have the whole country joining you, either in person or in spirit," he said Saturday afternoon.

"I think that this is the sort of event where people will talk, years from now, about 'Do you remember where you were Aug. 20, 2016, the last show the Tragically Hip did in Kingston?'"

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson poses in his Tragically Hip hockey sweater. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Paterson said the economic impact of the concert would be "huge," with visitors booking up hotel rooms weeks in advance.

Jay Bridges from Saskatoon was one of those visitors, making his first visit to Kingston to see his favourite band for the 14th time.

"The hair on my arms has been standing up since we landed here, it's been great... it just feels so surreal that we're here," he said.

Jay Bridges of Saskatoon says he likes Gord Downie's lyrics because they're deeper than "girls and drugs and pickup trucks." (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Farewell for good?

The Hip's beloved lead singer's health was on the minds of many before the show, some of whom wondered if the band picked Kingston to host their last concert ever.

"My stepmom had the same kind of brain cancer that Gord Downie does, she passed from the same thing," said Darcy Foo, one of the first people at the square at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

"It's really powerful the kind of statement he's making going out and doing this show and this tour. It's crazy that he's doing something like this."

"Just like everybody else there are rumblings of people saying 'is it the end?' and everybody hopes it's not," Willis said.

"Everybody hopes for Gord's health. We just want to show them we support them."