By Doug Draper
Posted August 21st on Niagara At Large
It has been a long time since I have felt as proud to be a Canadian and as close to my fellow Canadians as I did on this past evening of Saturday, August 20th.
That feeling of closeness and pride washed warmly over me as I took my place with thousands of others in the Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines, Ontario to watch what may very well be the last concert ever by Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip on a set of big screens.
I can barely remember the first time I felt that kind of pride because I was still two or three years shy of being old enough to vote at the time. It was 50 years ago this coming year when my Canada – finally flying a flag of its own – was celebrating its 100th birthday and we put on a spectacular party for the world called Expo 67.
More recently, in 1995, there was the referendum in Quebec with a vote that came within one percentage point of seeing the La Belle province leave the country. As disturbing as that episode was, what was beautiful about it was the sight of hundreds of thousands of Canadians rallying in streets from coast to coast for a Canada that included Quebec.
Arguably, it was the coming together of countless numbers of Canadians in the days leading up to the referendum – far more than anything our political leaders said or did – that convinced just enough Quebec citizens to vote ‘No’ to separation.
Then there the images on this screens this August 20th of a band called The Tragically Hip and their beloved front man Gord Downie performing live together for what may be the last time in their home town of Kingston, Ontario.
The Kingston show, as most of you know, was the grand finale of a cross- country tour that began after it was announced in the spring that Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. It was a show that, given the band’s popularity with generations of Canadians who embrace them as “Canada’s band,” was livestreamed by CBC for free and with the band’s blessing on countless screens, large and small, across the country.
One watched Downie performing on those screens who shared in the emotions of his audience, but with no mention of the disease that grips him and no hint of self-pity.
As the Sunday Toronto Star put it so well; “Here was an artist submitting what he knew would likely be his biggest, most emotional and, well, final performance, for a national audience still gripped by the grief over this sudden news. And Downie delivered, with will and determination and, of course, grace, for an audience that seemed ready at any moment should he falter.”
He didn’t falter, of course, and as I walked around the floor of the Meridian Centre, where hundreds in the audience climbed down from the bleacher seats to be closer to screens, couples of all ages were looking up at Downie’s image with wet eyes and smiles, holding hands and embracing each other while swaying back and forth to the music and mouthing almost each and every lyric.
Up in the bleachers, hundreds of others held up lighters as if Downie and the band were physically right there in the arena, performing in front of them.
At one point toward the end of the show, Downie pointed over to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with words of hope that he may be the one to address hardships still facing indigenous people and other challenges facing the country.
I could not help but think back to a year ago this August when Canada was in the first half of a federal election campaign and we still did not know if we would see the end of a decade of ugly and divisive fascism-lite under the cold heals of Steven Harper and his band of willing enablers.
What a difference a year can make.
The kind of warmth and pride witnessed this August 20th, with an estimated 11 million-plus Canadians coming together to watch the Hip in concert and pay tribute to its front man, seemed almost unimaginable back then.
Thank you Gord Downie. Your heroic tour has brought out the best in Canadians.
To watch some of the final concert click on –
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