'Heartbroken' Torontonians pay tribute to Gord Downie

Many Canadians are in mourning for Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie today, but the outpouring of grief was particularly evident Wednesday in his adopted home of Toronto following news of his death.

Tragically Hip frontman died Tuesday night at age 53

Tributes have been pouring in from across Toronto for Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, who died Tuesday night at age 53. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Many Canadians are in mourning for Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie today, but the outpouring of grief was particularly evident Wednesday in his adopted home of Toronto following news of his death.

Downie died Tuesday night at age 53. In 2015, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Wednesday morning, tributes began pouring in from many, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, who announced that the Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square would be lit up in red and white to honour Downie. The sign will also be dimmed at 11 p.m.

"Gord Downie was an inspiration to us all. His music is an essential part of the soundtrack of Canada," Tory said in a statement released on Twitter. "His diagnosis was heartbreaking but he faced illness with courage and a commitment to continue doing what he loved."

At city hall, Tory said Downie will be "deeply missed and was deeply admired" by people across the city and country.

"He was such an icon and he showed such courage in the last period of his life, when not only did he continue to perform, he continued to create, but he continued to advocate for Indigenous people," Tory told reporters.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also praised the singer.

"I think I speak for all people in Ontario in saying we are heartbroken," Wynne tweeted. "With Gord Downie's passing, a piece of Canada has died."

Before daily question period at Queen's Park, member of the Provincial Parliament Sophie Kiwala (Kingston and the Islands) put forward a motion calling for a moment of silence in Downie's honour. All MPPs agreed unanimously.

Members of the Ontario Legislature and visitors in the public gallery observe a moment of silence for Gord Downie before question period at Queen's Park. (CBC)

In a statement posted online Wednesday morning, the Downie family announced the death and said his children and family were close by.

"Gord knew this day was coming — his response was to spend this precious time as he always had — making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss ... on the lips."

The statement noted he lived "many lives" as a musician and as a devoted family man.

"Thank you everyone for all the respect, admiration and love you have given Gord throughout the years — those tender offerings touched his heart and he takes them with him now as he walks among the stars."

The hospital where he was receiving treatment, Sunnybrook, tweeted about Downie's legacy in raising awareness about glioblastoma, the form of brain cancer he suffered from.

"Gord Downie's legacy extends beyond his music," the hospital tweeted. "He raised unprecedented awareness for glioblastoma."

Downie continued working on musical projects and was still a fixture around the city after his diagnosis. On Wednesday, some of the city's major sports teams — the Raptors, Argonauts and Maple Leafs — tweeted tributes to Downie. 

 Former Leaf Doug Gilmour tweeted his condolences to the Downie family.

"Heartbroken today," Gilmour said. "Few Canadians touched this country like Gord Downie. Thank you for everything you gave us. My deepest condolences."

Musician Rick Welbanks, an assistant manager at Steve's Music on Queen Street West, said members of the Tragically Hip were often in the shop over the years and would arrive without fanfare.

"Gord was a Canadian icon," Welbanks told CBC Toronto on Wednesday. "We all knew it was coming, but it doesn't make it any easier."

He credited the band's sound with helping to define what it means to be Ontarian and Canadian.

"I don't think there was a Canadian sound before The Tragically Hip," Welbanks said.

Dan Kanter, a Toronto songwriter and producer, added that with his Secret Path project — in which Downie raised awareness of the horrors of Canada's residential school program through the story of Chanie Wenjack — Downie ended up truly writing and singing for all Canadians.

"More than ever Gord's voice speaks for all of Canada, and I think really that's his legacy," Kanter said.

University of Toronto master's student Jennifer Sylvester credits Gord Downie with inspiring her own advocacy work. (Spencer Gallichan Lowe/ CBC)

Jennifer Sylvester, an Indigenous advocate and master's student at the University of Toronto, said Downie's advocacy and the Secret Path project inspired her own life's work. She also noted Downie's call to the prime minister to pay closer attention to Indigenous issues during the band's farewell tour.

"As an Indigenous person watching that concert, it threw me back. No one has ever used their status in society to shed light on such a specific issue, and he had the whole country's eyes and ears on him," Sylvester said.

"We as a country should make sure that Gord's wishes come to realization."

Toronto music publicist Eric Alper noted how the band united Canadians.

"We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on The Tragically Hip. Fully completely," he tweeted. "Thank you, Gord Downie."

Outside of the Horseshoe Tavern where the Hip first played three decades ago, mourners gathered to pay tribute to Downie.

Tragically Hip fan Ted Duffield paid tribute to Gord Downie outside the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. (Tina McKenzie/CBC)

Young fan Ted Duffield, 18, said his mother is a big Tragically Hip fan and she instilled love for the band's music in her son.

"They are going to be with me forever," Duffield told CBC News, saying he felt lucky to have seen them in his hometown of Vancouver on their last tour.

Kate Helleman said she plans to spend the day with Downie's music on repeat.

"I think his legacy is going to be his overall positivity and just the way he was able to bring people together and just inherently wanted everybody to have a good time," she said.