Life A.D. : After Downie

It’s only been a few days since Gord Downie took his place among the stars, but the wheels of change are slowly starting to move.

In an interview published Saturday in the Toronto Sun, Hip guitarist Rob Baker lists a few projects he’s got in the works.

“Gord Sinclair and I just finished a record (called In Between) with a Kingston artist, Miss Emily. And I produced my son’s band Kasador. I’ve talked to Hugh Dillon about doing something, perhaps a radio show. I’m writing some memoirs. There seems to be no shortage of things to do if you want to do them. I don’t want my future to be my past. I need to kind of keep rolling forward.”

Baker also drops this fun little bit of knowledge: When asked whether a radio show with Hugh Dillon might actually happen, Baker says it’s possible and Dillon always has new projects on the horizon. He also highlights the ties that go back to their adolescence in Kingston —“He was our pot dealer in high school,” Baker says. “Well, he was one of them!”

On Wednesday, just a short time before news of Downie’s death started to spread across a now broken-hearted country, the Hip announced that Up  Cannabis would be the “official brand of our new medical marijuana partnership with Newstrike,” a partnership that was announced earlier this year.

Baker was asked about Downie’s decision to focus on First Nations after the Man Machine Poem tour ended and, ostensibly, so did The Hip.

“To know your time is limited and to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do with the time I’ve got left,’ I thought it was a beautiful legacy project for him, to really hunker down and use his time for something positive, to build some awareness. It’s a beautiful thing,” Baker told Sun reporter Jane Stevenson. “Secret Path, it wouldn’t have come out like it came out (if it was a Hip record), and we’re glad he did it.”

He also mentioned that the Hip “were half-way through a new album at the time of Downie’s death and also had (a) double album’s worth of unreleased material.” Stay tuned.

Continuing on the Downie-Wenjack “Path”

Downie’s work with reconciliation efforts has inspired many over the past year and will continue to do so going forward. It’s also changed the course of action for at least one person involved with the massive outpouring of charitable donations made after the announcement of Downie’s cancer diagnosis.

Saturday afternoon, Rob Ferreira of the Courage for Gord organization sent an email to supporters announcing the fundraising effort would be changing shape and focus.

“Courage for Gord Foundation started as a campaign to support Gord Downie and brain cancer research. It evolved to also support Gord’s Secret Path project and the movement to jumpstart reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples,” Ferreira writes. “It was time to ‘Do Something.’ With your support, CFG raised over $175,000 for the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.”

Last November, Ferreira and a handful of others, including photographer Joel Clements, traveled to Kenora, Ontario, to retrace Wenjack’s final days and his walk on the Secret Path, the story retold in the graphic novel and album of the same name. It was an emotional effort that lives in the hearts of those who participated.

From the stage on Kingston during that final Man Machine Poem tour, Downie called on Canada to “do something” to make life better for First Nations peoples. It’s the legacy he most wanted to leave, aside from the work for which he’s most known and recognized.

Now that Downie has left us, Ferreira has decided to wind down the efforts of Courage for Gord and, instead, follow in Downie’s footsteps.

“Along with Rod Nolan, I am humbled and honoured to have represented CFG. This experience has been incredible and life-changing in so many ways; however, all good things must come to an end,” he writes. “It’s time to reflect on so many memorable moments shared with this community. It’s also time to shift my focus to a cause that needs our help — the Gord Downie & Channie Wenjack Fund, which is part of Gord Downie’s legacy and embodies his commitment, and that of his family, to improving the lives of First Peoples.”

Ferreira reiterates that the goal of the Downie Wenjack fund is to “continue the conversation that began with Chanie Wenjack’s residential school story and to aid our collective reconciliation journey through a combination of awareness, education and action.”

More information on the Downie Wenjack Fund is available here. And if you’d like to honour Gord while helping the fund, you can purchase Jeff Lemire’s gorgeous tribute art (shown above), go here.

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