Gord Downie’s brothers open up about his childhood and legacy
Gord Downie’s brothers sat down with the q host Tom Powers for an intimate interview following the Tragically Hip singer’s death earlier this week.
Patrick and Mike Downie share some of their fondest memories of their brother, their plans to carry on his legacy, and what it’s been like to witness an outpouring of grief from Canadians.
Here’s an excerpt of that conversation.
TOM: Can you give me a story about childhood Gord?
MIKE: I’ll tell you a story. Gord was in his first year of minor hockey … and we were coming home at the end of a season — last game. Gord’s team was in the finals. Gord was a defenceman. So anyway they lost the game, and Gord … he’s pissed off. The goalie let them down, right? And they had this team and they’d had a great season and they lost the final game. And I remember a conversation along the lines of, “Hey, don’t blame the goalie.” Gord is like, “Next year I’m going to be the goalie.” And I laughed and I laughed. Because Gord wasn’t a great skater. He was a lanky guy, right, you know he was young. He was probably seven or maybe eight.
PATRICK: Did you say he wasn’t a great skater?
MIKE: Not that first year.… He became a better skater, don’t get me wrong. But so anyway, so I laughed, and I’m like, this’ll be interesting. So the next September comes, and I’ll never forget, he comes home from the first practice with those brand-new pads, because they supply the equipment. And we’ve been playing road hockey you know like on the ice pads up and down the street for years and all of a sudden we’ve got a full set of goalie equipment. Then it kind of dawned on me: this is a good thing. That season, Gord got 15 shutouts and they won the Centre 70 minor hockey championship. And I gotta tell ya, he was good. That’s my Gord story.
TOM: Mike is there anything you’d say to him right now?
MIKE: Anything I’d say to Gord? You know, I guess what comes along with battling an illness for that amount of time, you get opportunities to, you know, to have the conversations.
What personally I’m really going to miss is having him as a witness to a big chunk of my life. Gord had a great memory. There was a lot of things that happened in those childhood days and I always got such a thrill out of … just going back and forth on it. Could have been almost anything, high school dance or somebody’s girlfriend or something, you know, that just was a part of the family lore. Or maybe just something that only two of you experienced. And I think that’s what I’m going to miss because I really like going to those places.
We went to a couple of those places over the last six months or so, like almost recreating, blow by blow, something that happened. And I’m going to miss that. I’ve got a pretty good memory; I’m going to hang on to all of it. But it’s a little bit more fun when you can share it with somebody who was there.
PATRICK: Well really, you know, it’s obviously really fresh and our whole family is feeling pretty tender at this point. But it’s not too much unlike that last show in Kingston, where Gord sort of suddenly realized he had this huge audience and he could say something and actually take advantage of the attention and put it to work. You know it’s not an easy situation to come out in this particular time to speak about this publicly, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t take advantage of the attention that he’s getting to do some actual work, to actually put it into something.
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TOM: Mike, tell me about the Chanie Wenjack Gord Downie Fund?
MIKE: Well, Tom, we started it last year, it really came out as a result of our trip. Patrick and Gord and I and some friends took up to Ogoki Post to meet the Wenjacks and just show them all the Secret Path pieces, Gord’s record, Jeff Lemire and Gord’s graphic novel and the first part of the animated film, to ask the family for their blessing and really to meet them for the first time.
I had been talking to Pearl [Wenjack, sister of Chanie] ever since Gord went into the studio to record the songs, way back like four years ago, and this was our first meeting. And it was a powerful experience for all of us. And while we were up there the Secret Path had been announced … that a new project from Gord was coming out, and it really caught fire. You could just see it spread right across the country, from way up there …
‘There’s got to be a way to keep this energy, to keep this sort of awakening alive.’ – Mike Downie, Gord Downie’s brother
And so, on the way home we were talking. It was just such a beautiful project, but the question was, how do we keep that going? And that’s really where the idea of the fund came from. There’s got to be a way to keep this energy, to keep this sort of awakening alive. So that’s when we started the fund. And that was a year ago.
And since then we’ve been taking the funds Canadians generously donated, it came from everywhere … thousands and thousands of people, classrooms, we get letters, we get artwork — Chanie on the tracks, Gord on the tracks — we cannot believe what some of these kids are doing, it’s beautiful.
And so with the fund, we are supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Centre. There’s a Gord Downie Trust within there. They are going to try to find more of these kids who never made it home; there’s unmarked graves surrounding all these residential schools, which are now gone, there’s still grave sites around many of these places and we want to support the Truth and Reconciliation Centre to try and find these children that still have families.
Second is education. We’ve got 40,000 teachers in the country, that we know of, using Secret Path in their classrooms, we want to support them. We have lessons plans for them to share, they’re sharing with each other. We’re trying to continue to support that.
And lastly we are giving out these small grants to people that have an idea of active reconciliation, they have an Indigenous partner, and we’re trying to plant a bunch of these small seeds, kind of like startup money, but we want to validate … it has to be something I think, there’s a few small criteria. But it’s about action.
TOM: So what can ordinary Canadians do today to fulfil that dream of Gord’s?
PATRICK: I think like Mike said, you can educate yourself, you can get involved in small ways … I think a lot of people are hurting, grieving. I know we are. And maybe put some of that into action, you know. You can spectate, but in this situation you might be better just to be a little bit of an actor. And that’s what they can do.
TOM: Through the grief that you guys are experiencing, which I know is so deep, that you want to use this moment and kind of push away your personal grief and kind of do something with it, Patrick.
PATRICK: Well. That’s truly honouring Gord. And that’s what we’re here doing.
You can catch the full interview Monday on
and Gord Downie’s
Secret Pathin Concert
airs Sunday, Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC. It will also stream at