Gord Downie’s final year captured in CBC doc ‘Finding the Secret Path’

TORONTO — Once Gord Downie set his mind to the ”Secret Path,” virtually nothing else mattered.

One year after his death, the new CBC documentary “Finding the Secret Path” shows just how fiercely determined the Tragically Hip frontman was during his brain cancer battle to raise awareness about Canada’s dark history of residential schools through the story of Chanie Wenjack.

The plight of the 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy, who died of hunger and exposure after escaping a northern Ontario residential school in 1966, inspired Downie’s the “Secret Path” multimedia project and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund that have moved fans and led to various initiatives across the country.

“If you know Gord and you know even physically what a strong constitution he had, he was a real bear,” said Patrick Downie, adding that his brother “scoffed” when doctors told him his illness would hamper his physical ability to perform.

“He was like, ‘I think I will be (able to perform). I’m different from everybody else.’ And he was.

“If he wasn’t a singer, he probably would have been some kind of a professional athlete or something. He just had that fortitude and the physical ability to do it.”

Premiering Friday on CBC, the CBC TV streaming app and cbc.ca/watch, “Finding the Secret Path” marks the first anniversary of Downie’s death from brain cancer on Oct. 17, and the 52nd anniversary of Wenjack’s death on Oct. 22.

“This was a very trying, challenging time for our family, this time last year and the weeks that followed,” said Patrick Downie, who co-executive produced the doc along with Mike Downie and Gord Downie.

The family is planning a “quiet, reflective day” to mark the one-year anniversary with a small, private gathering, he added. On Oct. 27, they’ll also mark the three-year anniversary of their father’s death.

“It’s been a long, hard year, a very sorrowful year, where a lot of good things have happened,” said Patrick Downie, ”and we’ve heard from a lot of people that feel very moved by Gord and miss his presence and music and art.”

Through never-before-seen footage and various interviews, the doc shows the final year of Downie’s life, as he fights through fatigue and self-consciousness about his fading memory to rehearse and perform “The Secret Path” onstage.

“If I have any pull or any push at all, this is what I want to do. Nothing else really matters to me,” he says in the film.

Cameras also capture Downie as he flies with a group to the remote village of Ogoki Post, Ont., to meet with members of the Wenjack family and get their blessing on “The Secret Path” graphic novel, album and animated film. Travelling there was risky, considering Downie had just undergone two brain surgeries and cancer treatment, but he felt it was important.

“That meeting and then the subsequent meetings cemented a really beautiful and long-lasting relationship between the two families,” said Patrick Downie.

As the doc explains, “The Secret Path” has not only raised awareness about the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, it’s also donated proceeds to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. It’s also led to a school educational program and a hockey program that brings together kids from west Toronto and Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario.

The brothers hope the new doc will encourage even more Downie fans to join the conversation about developing “a more complex culture where Indigenous people have a greater say.”

“We’re not speaking for any Indigenous people whatsoever,” said Mike Downie, who wrote, directed and co-produced the doc.

“We’re talking to Gord’s army and we want them to participate, we want them to get involved, we want them to see what their kids are doing in school and we want them to encourage their friends to learn a little bit more.

“If it starts with awareness, then the next stage has got to be education and then the next stage is action — but you need to go through those in order for it to make any sense.”

Just Posted

Red Deer area businesses recognized at Business of the Year Awards night

“It’s an honour just to be nominated.” The popular words echoed throughout… Continue reading

Child sex offender should get 12 years: Crown prosecutor

Stuart Peter Hunt has pleaded guilty to 10 child sexual exploitation and pornography charges

Legalizing cannabis cost estimate for Red Deer just under $400k

Although the province of Alberta has announced $11.2 million for cannabis legalization,… Continue reading

WATCH: Every square tells a story: Edmonton expert is exploring Red Deer’s quilting history

Community members can bring in family heirloom quilts for documentation

Red Deer-area dads going through divorce are invited to Man Up

Support group formed to focus on positive activities, networking

WATCH: Two weeks away from Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer

In just two weeks, Ponoka’s Shayna Weir will compete with the best… Continue reading

PHOTO: Say goodbye to City Hall Park flowers

A sure sign that winter is on its way is when City… Continue reading

PHOTO: Chew On This! campaign draws attention to national poverty

Lunch bags were being handed out in front of The Hub downtown… Continue reading

Wickenheiser, Pegula reflect NHL’s trend toward diversity

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a laugh, Kim Pegula’s competitive nature kicked in… Continue reading

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

DUBBO, Australia — The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were jokingly thanked… Continue reading

TV Review: A Roseanne Barr-less ‘The Conners’ is a triumph

NEW YORK — Can there be a “Roseanne” without Roseanne? The answer… Continue reading

Canadian manufacturing sales fell 0.4 per cent in August: Statistics Canada

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says manufacturing sales fell 0.4 per cent to… Continue reading

Brian Mulroney joins board of directors of New York-based pot company

NEW YORK — Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is joining the board… Continue reading

Canadians waking up to legalized cannabis: ‘My new dealer is the prime minister’

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canadians across the country woke up to legalized… Continue reading

Most Read