When the Canadian Press named Gord Downie its newsmaker of the year for 2017, it did so with the support of what seemed like half the country, or maybe more.
Indeed with more than 11 million people watching the final concert as Downie and his bandmates in the Tragically Hip played their way into our collective memories in 2017, it’s hard to argue with the impact the man and his band made on our nation.
With a career built solidly in Canada, Downie and the Hip were something that was uniquely ours.
Aside from small pockets of popularity south of the border, Downie and the Hip pulled off a rare feat for a Canadian act, finding huge success and doing it in Canada, without the help of the mass music marketers in the good ol’ USA.
But it was in Downie’s final year that he went from popular artist to so much more, taking his fame and turning it into something positive, something that would make a difference.
Downie took the plight of First Nations struggles to the mainstream public over the last year of his life, pushing hard for people to think about something other than the Canada that we know and love.
Because for too many years in Canada our children were not taught about the real history of Canada’s Indigenous population, the people that were here for thousands of years before white settlers arrived.
Generations grew up being told that First Nations were lazy or drunks or people who used and abused the system.
But the real story was much more hard to fathom: That Canada attempted mass genocide on its First Peoples, taking their land, putting them on reserves, stealing kids and giving them over to the residential schools to be abused or killed.
That we all stood and celebrated Canada 150 this year was a terrible joke. This land has belonged to the people for much longer than the government of Canada has existed. And it still belongs to the people, to all of us.
If it took an artist on his death bed to show more people just how wrong Canada has been, then we salute Gord Downie posthumously. He had the courage to say what needs to be done.
He once wrote, Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time. Well this courage came right when we needed it.
Here’s hoping his message was heard.