Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Gord Downie, he surprises us again.
After wrapping up his farewell tour with The Tragically Hip, the Canadian rock icon announced last Friday the upcoming release of a new album and graphic novel entitled, Secret Path.
After years of describing Canada through his rock n’ roll sound, it’s no surprise that Downie’s new album focuses on Canadian history, however, this time with a more serious tone.
During the Hip’s final concert at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston on August 20, Downie paused the show to speak on current issues faced by Indigenous people in Canada. It was no coincidence Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one fan in the crowd. Downie specifically addressed him on these concerns.
Downie’s Secret Path follows the story of a young Indigenous boy, Chanie Wenjack (miscalled Charlie), who died trying to escape the Cecilia Residential School near Kenora, ON. Chanie fled the school in hopes of returning home 400 miles away. He never made it.
Downie learned of Chanie’s story from his brother Mike who turned him to a Maclean’s February 1967 article, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”
“I never knew Chanie, but I will always love him,” Downie said in a press release on September 9.
“Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were. History will be re-written. We are all accountable, but this begins in the late 1800s and goes to 1996. “White” Canada knew – on somebody’s purpose – nothing about this. We weren’t taught it in school; it was hardly ever mentioned.”
Through Secret Path, Downie hopes to bring awareness to Chanie’s story, and to a great extent, Indigenous peoples in Canada as a whole.
“I am trying in this small way to help spread what Murray Sinclair said, ‘This is not an aboriginal problem. This is a Canadian problem,’” Downie said.
Downie began writing Secret Path as ten poems that were later transformed into songs with producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin. The music features Downie on vocals and guitars, with Drew and Hamelin accompanying. Guest artists Charles Spearin (bass), Ohad Benchetrit (lap steel/guitar), Kevin Hearn (piano), and Dave “Billy Ray” Koster (drums) are also featured in the album.
In addition to the musical composition, the poems have also been adapted into a graphic novel and film.
The album and book will be released on Oct. 18 and the film will air on CBC on Oct. 23.
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