Tragically Hip tour: Ahead By A Century lyrics adorn Gord Downie's shoes

The Tragically Hip play Wednesday, Friday and Sunday in Toronto. But what you won't see are some of the lyrics to Ahead By A Century, the band's highest-charting single in Canada, etched on the bottom of Gord Downie's shoes.

Toronto hat and shoemaker design unique lids and boots for Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie

Some of the lyrics to the Ahead By A Century, The Tragically Hip's highest-charting single in Canada, were laser etched on the bottom of the shoes frontman Gord Downie will be sporting during the band's tour. ( Connie Tsang)

All eyes will be on ​Gord Downie's brightly coloured metallic suits and herky-jerky dance moves when The Tragically Hip play Wednesday, Friday and Sunday in Toronto, but what you won't see is what he's got etched on the soles of his shoes: some of the lyrics to Ahead By A Century, the band's highest-charting single in Canada.

"First thing we'd climb a tree and maybe then we'd talk or sit silently and listen to our thoughts" and "with revenge and doubt, tonight we smoke them out" were laser etched in old typewriter font on the soles of the flamboyant showman's boots by Toronto shoemakers Jitterbug Boy.

Jitterbug Boy owner Jeff Churchill told CBC News he has always liked the song, which he said was running through his head while he worked on the shoe. 

The footwear company, which has been making "custom made shoes and boots for the arts" for the last 11 years, was contacted last summer by Izzy Camilleri, a Toronto-based clothing designer who collaborated with Downie to create the funky suits he's wearing on tour.

"She asked if I could design some shoes for (Gord)," Churchill said, "I was completely buried by work so I had to take a pass and ended up kicking myself after. So when I heard the Hip were doing one final tour, I got back in touch with Izzy and said, 'If you guys need the boots, let me know and I can free up my schedule for it.'

"They did, I did, and a couple of weeks later, there were a pair of boots for him," he added. "They're really simple, classic black ankle boots with a leather sole. I wanted to make them really unique, really Gord, so I started working through some details that are really subtle that no one would see but him. That was important for me."

Churchill, who listened to the Hip while working on the shoes, told CBC News "the thought of being able to make a pair of boots for this iconic Canadian ... and being a tiny part of Canadian music history" really appealed to him.

Karyn Ruiz echoed Churchill's sentiment.
Gord Downie is seen wearing one of six hats that Toronto's Karyn Ruiz designed for The Tragically Hip's frontman. (Canadian Press)

The owner of Lilliput Hats, a custom hat maker located in Little Italy, was also contacted by Camilleri to craft hats that Downie would rock on the current tour.

"I like to feel there's a piece of me up on stage," she told CBC News. "It was really emotional when I first saw him wearing the hats and receiving these really eloquent texts from him telling me he loved them."

Lilliput made six hats for Downie, who Ruiz describes as having "a particular aesthetic."

She says the Hip's frontman "was very involved in the creative process, he was really excited by the amount of choices we gave him and how flexible we were. At one point, he was like, 'Just use your imagination and go for it.'"

Ruiz described the opportunity to make the hats as "bittersweet, given the nature of the tour."

But, she added, "it's their last tour but it's hardly a farewell.

"It feels like a big Canadian hug, like a big love letter to the country."

Karyn Ruiz designed six hats for Tragically Hip Gord Downie, two of which he'll be debuting at the band's three Toronto shows this week. ( David Bastedo)

With files from Stephanie Matteis