TORONTO — A brother of the late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie says a weekend benefit concert performance of his “Secret Path” album was a “powerful” show and he isn’t ruling out making it an annual event, possibly in different cities.
On Saturday musical acts including Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sam Roberts, Serena Ryder, Tanya Tagaq, and Whitehorse performed a sold-out concert at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall to benefit the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.
The Secret Path Live show was a recreation of the original October 2016 concert, which Downie performed after revealing he had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He died on Oct. 17, 2017.
“It was so powerful, so … I would love to do it again, but maybe we’ll have to try it in a different city next year or something,” Mike Downie, who is a documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the Downie Wenjack Fund, said Sunday in a phone interview from Toronto.
“It would be great. The Downie Wenjack Fund is a national charitable organization, so it probably would be a good idea to not just keep popping up in Toronto.”
But Downie said there is no concrete plan in place to make it an annual event, noting it was a lot of work to put together.
The show marked the first time members of the “Secret Path” band — who include Kevin Drew and Kevin Hearn — had performed the album together since the 2016 show with Downie.
“I heard from a few people that they felt the presence of Gord while they were going back to these songs that they hadn’t performed since the last time, which would have been with Gord,” said Downie.
“Leading up to it it really felt like, ‘Wow, this would be pretty hard to do every year.’ Then when the show starts, it’s a really powerful experience for everybody in the audience, and halfway through the show you’re thinking ‘Oh, we have to do this again.”’
The multi-platform “Secret Path” project tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibwe boy who died while trying to escape an Ontario residential school in 1966. The initiative aims to raise awareness about Canada’s history of residential schools through music, dance and art.
Saturday’s show also saw comedy star Bruce McCulloch of “The Kids in the Hall” read a letter he had written based on correspondence he’d had with Downie, with whom he was friends.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, performed a drum song with some of his friends.
Wenjack’s sister, Pearl, sang a prayer song while other members of the family sat in the audience.
The event capped Secret Path Week, an annual initiative involving various tribute shows and activations with the Downie Wenjack Legacy Schools Programs, which aims to support educators with lesson plans about Indigenous culture. That program started a year ago as a pilot project in 200 schools and has expanded to over 1,300 schools, said Downie.
Downie didn’t have figures on how much money was raised on Saturday but felt it was a success in achieving their goals of raising awareness about reconciliation.
“We are trying to get more and more Canadians interested, involved, committed to reconciliation, everyone in their own way,” Downie said.
“When you have a roomful of people like that, I hope it inspires Canadians from coast to coast who hear about it, who see the video that will be out there, that there’s a place for everyone in this movement and it’s going to take literally millions of us to really make a significant impact on reconciliation.”