Hard to believe, but we’re quickly approaching one year since Gord Downie left this earthly plane to walk among the stars.
A number of tribute events marking the occasion are starting to pop up, most of which have an affiliation with or will benefit the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, supporting education on residential schools and reconciliation efforts.
The Burlington Performing Arts Centre is hosting an event called “Legacy: A Tribute to Gord Downie” on October 17, featuring a handful of artists including Bruce McCulloch, Tom Wilson, Danny Michel, Trent Severn, Matthew Barber, Damnhait Doyle and others.
Each artist will perform about 10 minutes of material, singing songs, telling stories, interpreting what Downie’s life, work and art mean to them.
The next day, October 18, the same performers will appear in St. Catharines at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.
Tickets for the Burlington performance are $54 for members and $59 for the general public.
Tickets for the event at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre are $25 for students, $39 for members and $49 for the general public.
Funds from the performances will go directly to the Downie-Wenjack Fund for the designation of Legacy Spaces in both art centres.
A heartfelt thanks to Downie
The shows were curated by Kevin Fox, who started work on the performances nearly a year ago. His wife, Tammy Fox, “spearheaded the concept.” Tammy is executive producer of the Burlington PAC.
“Simply put, this is my way of saying thank you to Gord,” Kevin Fox said. “I can only hope to offer some justice to everything he contributed to our country and way of culture.”
Downie invested “so much of his energy during his final months to a cause that was not being properly recognized by too many. For me, the process of producing these events has been the start of an enlightening and educational journey that Gord felt we all needed to take to truly recognize the plight of our First Nation communities. It’s well past the time that we all get to work on the reconciliation process,” he added.
“The Niagara region (and all of Canada, really) love Gord Downie and we took special interest in how he decided to spend his final weeks, months and years bringing much attention to the incredible challenges facing Indigenous peoples in Canada,” said Annie Wilson, the centre’s programming director.
A commitment to ‘Do Something’
“With this event, we have also made a five-year commitment to raise funds for the Downie-Wenjack Fund and to create a Legacy Space at the PAC dedicated to providing accurate information regarding Indigenous history and our journey of reconciliation,” she continued. “The spaces are meant to be safe and welcoming places where conversations about the past, present and future are facilitated and encouraged. They also serve as symbols and reminders for employees, clients, students and guests of the important work each of us needs to do if the promises of this country are to be fulfilled.”
This is just the start of the journey and learning process, Wilson and Fox both stress. It’s one that won’t end with the theatres’ five-year commitments to the Downie-Wenjack Fund.
“As far as I am aware, this will be the first time that Legacy Spaces will be erected in Performing Arts Centres and I personally believe there is no better community space for them to reside,” Fox said.
After all, for many non-indigenous people, it was just two years ago that the topics of reconciliation and residential schools really came to the forefront. The conversation Downie kickstarted, first in Kingston and then with the release of “Secret Path” is painful, difficult and will take a long time to work through, but starting with one step is the best place to begin.
“At some point, we all have to take the risk, and that is exactly what the Legacy Spaces being established by both theatres are there to represent,” Fox said. “A safe space to ask questions and will hopefully come away with a little more knowledge and context. I will always be appreciative of the journey producing these events has placed on me. And that appreciation primarily has to go to Gord and his remarkable dedication to the cause when he knew his time was so limited. Truly inspiring.”
Doubtless there will be other celebrations, tributes, concerts, gatherings, memorials and commemorations across Canada in October.
Already, there’s a show on the books in Buffalo, with the now internationally playing Strictly Hip and some friends, including Erin Hoyle and Vito Wojick, the singing daughter and drumming son of two of the band’s members but incredibly talented in their own right, along with Jamie Holka of the band Captain Beyond, Rick Ruhmel of Workingman’s Dead and Dan Nicholas of Fully Clothed Gents. Their show is Saturday, October 20 at the Tralf and tickets are available here.