HALIFAX — A Gord Downie tribute sculpture has been unveiled at Halifax City Hall, in a room that aims to foster conversations about Indigenous history and reconciliation.
The sculpture was created by artist Al Hattie using recycled metals that emulate a microphone stand and Downie’s signature hat, complete with feathers.
On a wall behind the sculpture — titled “The Last Show” — is the shadowy profile of the Tragically Hip frontman.
The piece is situated in city hall’s Legacy Space, the first municipal building in Canada with a room dedicated to reconciliation.
The concept of legacy rooms is the brainchild of Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Morley Googoo, and he worked with Downie to make it a reality before his 2017 death.
Googoo, who represents Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, says the sculpture allows the public to participate in reconciliation.
“The art and the beauty of this statue is actually having Canadians step up and do something. The call is being answered in such a beautiful way with this statue,” said Googoo after the unveiling.
“Change is happening. People are hearing the story. People are being moved and trying to created a new narrative with beautiful things, and the statue unveiled today is absolutely beautiful and will hopefully get more people talking.”
The legacy spaces initiative is part of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, which honours the 12-year-old Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
“(The) program is an opportunity for corporations, government, organizations and educational institutions to play an important role in their communities,” the fund’s website says.
“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.”
There are several legacy rooms in the Halifax area, and a number of others across the country.
Downie died in October 2017 of brain cancer, but spent his final years raising awareness about Canada’s dark history of residential schools through the story of Wenjack.
The plight of the 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy inspired Downie’s “Secret Path” multimedia project.
The Canadian government launched the residential school system in the 19th century.
Over decades, about 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their homes and sent to religious boarding schools.
Away from their families and culture, many students lived in horrific conditions and endured severe abuse. The impact of residential schools continues to be felt today.