With a hug, a small smile and a nod, the recognition brought to a close a surreal year for the lead singer of The Tragically Hip.
We all know about the cancer diagnosis, the incredible tour that captivated a nation, the outpouring of love and gratitude for both Downie and the band since the news broke in late May 2016.
The campaign to have Downie appointed to the Order of Canada began before the news broke that he’s suffering from glioblastoma—an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer—but it really picked up momentum from that point. Two online petitions, one to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other to Canadian Governor General David Johnson, were signed by nearly 200 and nearly 77,000 people, respectively.
Whether it was the result of the petitions or something that had been long in the works, it was announced on June 15 that while the other members of the band, including Johnny Fay, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Paul Langlois, will receive the honourary distinction this fall. Downie received his medal on June 19, part of a ceremony “in recognition of outstanding Indigenous leadership,” according to an official press release.
— The Tragically Hip (@thehipdotcom) June 15, 2017
The band is being recognized “for their contribution to Canadian music and for their support of various social and environmental causes.”
During the ceremony, Downie was commended for 30 years of celebrating Canada in song lyrics, “creating a sense of what it is like to love and live in this country. His charitable contributions and social activism continue to have a significant impact. He is devoted to promoting dialogue, raising awareness of the history of residential schools and moving the country along the path to reconciliation.”
There have been many moments of tribute to Downie in the past year. Perhaps the most emotional for the man himself was the naming ceremony last year in which he was given the name Wicapi Omani, or “The Man Who Walks with the Stars” in Lakota, an honour given him by the Assembly of First Nations. During that powerful moment, Downie’s face was covered in tears as he was embraced by a star blanket, “traditionally wrapped around the recipient to convey warmth and to protect its wearer from loneliness, and it is considered a very high honour,” Global News reported at the time. He was also presented a commissioned portrait and an eagle feather from the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
“Gord Downie is shining a light on the inequality experienced by indigenous peoples,” National Chief Perry Bellegarde said during the ceremony. “Today we lift up and honour Gord Downie, whose words and music have introduced millions of Canadians to the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who has come to represent the thousands of children subjected to the Residential Schools system, just one of the many who was taken from his family never to see them again.”
Following the completion of the Man Machine Poem tour last summer, Downie indicated he wanted his legacy to be his work on drawing attention the atrocities within the residential school system. His book of poems and songs, The Secret Path, already is being used by teachers across Canada to educate children on the system.
But it’s not all somber moments of appreciation. On June 22, the city councilors in his and the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, voted to rename a popular swimming dock on King Street West as “Gordon Edgar Downie Pier,” in recognition of his work with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.