Day 6

Gord Downie: Canada's friend, poet, advocate, rocker and neighbourhood goalie

Hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser, musicians Mike O'Neill and Dave Ullrich, Indigenous leader Donald Spiedel and stage actor Ramin Karimloo share their favourite stories of their time with Gord Downie.
Gordon Downie of the Tragically Hip performs during the Live 8 concert on July, 2005. (Donald Weber/Getty Images)

On Wednesday morning, the Downie family released a statement announcing that Gord, frontman of the Tragically Hip, had passed away. He was 53.

" 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 says.- From the Downie  family Statement 

Downie had an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, which he discovered after a seizure in December 2015.

Along with his family and the band, Downie kept the news quiet for a few a months before going public and also announcing a 15-show cross-Canada tour.  

Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie performs with band members Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay and Rob Baker in the kick-off of their "Man Machine Poem" tour in Victoria, B.C. (Kevin Light/Reuters)

The tour promoted the band's new album, Man Machine Poem, but for Gord, the band and their fans it was a chance to say thanks. 

Downie insisted on living as fully and genuinely as possible. He lived many lives in his 53 years, and what comes through in the memories people have been drumming up is that he touched a lot of people in different ways throughout those lives.  

We gathered a few of those memories from some of the millions of people who feel close to Gord.

Hayley Wickenheiser, Canadian hockey gold medalist

"Gord was a big hockey fan, as everybody knows, but he also was a big fan of women's hockey. I think he saw a sense of real, authentic people that didn't make millions of dollars doing it and really admired our team and what we stood for.

Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser celebrates after defeating the United States 3-2 in overtime to win the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal Game in Sochi. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

He was just a guy — just a dude — who would show up at a hockey game and you could have a beer with him and sit down and chat. And yet he was so brilliant with his lyrics and his ability to write."



Dave Ullrich, drummer with the Inbreds

"We were in Ottawa and we needed to get back to Kingston, so we bummed a ride with the Tragically Hip on their tour bus. What I remember is getting on the bus and everybody was asleep except for Gord, myself and Mike.

We're sitting at the front and talking and eventually we get to my house, right in the main area of downtown Kingston. The bus pulls up at like three in the morning or something. And it's raining. It's pouring.

The Inbreds, Dave Ullrich (left) and Mike O'Neill (right), toured with The Tragically Hip on the Another Roadside Attraction music festival in 1995. (The Inbreds)

We had to get our stuff out of the bus because we had all of our junk and all of the merch from the tour. So we're carrying it into my house so we can put it all down in the basement and on the way, the bottom rips out of one of the boxes that had all of our t-shirts. So all of the shirts fall on the ground.

So not only did Gord stay up all night talking and hanging out with us, meanwhile he's helping us load into the house and he's now he's helping us pick up wet t-shirts off the ground and put them back in the box and helping us get it safely into the house. I just thought, 'what a great guy, right?'"
People hold candles during a vigil for the late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie in him hometown of Kingston, Ontario. (REUTERS / Chris Wattie)


Mike O'Neill, guitarist with the Inbreds

"When the Hip came to Halifax, they were touring with the Rheostatics, [and] they rented an arena and Gord played net. I got the puck and I was going up the boards and Gord was doing commentary from behind his goalie mask and I was so excited that of course I lost control of the puck.

He used to — when he was at home in his house from Toronto — he would put on all his equipment, put on his goalie mask and then walk across the street to the park and he would just join whatever game was going on.

I always imagined that most of the people that would be playing would be pretty excited to know it was Gord but he was totally incognito with this mask on."

The Toronto Maple Leafs paid tribute to hockey fan Gord Downie on Wednesday, October 18 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. (Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment)


Donald Speidel, Indigenous leader

"I think he moved the needle. Part of his rapport and part of who he was certainly helped to create that movement in our country and draw awareness to residential schools. The Assembly of First Nations wanted to acknowledge him for that.

One of the things I would say is a big thank you for his advocacy and for being that superhuman individual who touched many lives. I hope he will continue to watch over us and guide us and bless us in a way that he did while he was here."

Assembly of First Nations honours tearful Gord Downie


3 years agoVideo
Downie was honoured at the 2016 AFN gathering for his work highlighting the impact of residential schools. 0:40


Ramin Karimloo, stage actor

"For years on end, I was trying to be either him or Colm [Wilkinson]. I was dressing in a double denim. You know,  the way he dresses even now with the beanie hat.

The Tragically Hip open the main stage at the 30th anniversary of the Woodstock music and arts festival in Rome, New York. (REUTERS)

I also had the facial expressions when I hit certain notes. I would copy him to a tee. I was even in a Tragically Hip tribute band. That was my first real performing experience and I would try and mimic his gyrations and his dancing or whatever it was.

You know I just wanted to get that energy. I just loved how free he was with it. As a performer and as an actor. There was a genius behind all that."


To hear the full audio of people saying goodbye to Gord Downie, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.