In Canada’s first capital, Kingston, Ont., and coast to coast, emotional fans bid adieu to The Tragically Hip on Saturday, knowing if they had a wish, they’d wish for more of this.
For a nation not particularly given to grand patriotic gestures, the night marked a historic yet bittersweet farewell to the prolific flag bearers of Canadiana as they made one last stop on the Man Machine Poem tour, ending a legendary musical journey that began in the 1980’s right in the town where it all began: Kingston, Ont.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of many fans paying homage to the band at their sold-out last stop, acknowledging its unique contributions to an oft-fluid and rarely defined notion of Canadian identity.
“Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years. #Courage,” tweeted the Prime Minister earlier this year, nodding to a vast discography peppered with references to Canadian news, legends and towns in the band’s 14 studio albums.
Tens of thousands of fans packed venues, from the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston to hundreds of live simulcasts across the country and beyond, and watched lead singer Gord Downie take a bow, capping off an unparalleled career of showmanship armed with skill and determination and grace, too.
Mr. Downie revealed earlier this year that he’s battling terminal brain cancer.
“Dear World, Please be advised that Canada will be closed tonight at 8:30 p.m ET. Have a #TragicallyHip day,” said the Toronto Police Twitter feed early on Saturday, echoing the sentiments of many who were gearing up to witness a moment in history.
Hordes of fans descended on viewing parties across Toronto to pay homage to Mr. Downie and the Hip. In Toronto alone, hundreds packed the CNE’s Bandshell Park to watch a televised broadcast, clad in bright red and memorabilia from three decades of tours, toting beers and celebrating the most Canadian of spirits.
Christine Burns, 54, wanted to share the night with her husband and her two teenaged daughters, even after she attended the Hamilton concert earlier this week.
“It’s just… Canada,” she said. “I felt so guilty having such a great time, because I knew how poignant it was (seeing Gord up there)… But the band’s just that good.”
Clad in 90s concert gear, Ms. Burns teared up as she talked about growing up with Mr. Downie’s words in a time when so many around her were moving south of the border.
“He was doing things differently, being a true Canadian, and it made me feel like being Canadian was good,” she said.
Diana Newell, 24, and Daniel Mackenzie, 23, were also at the Toronto concert earlier this week, but said it felt necessary to come to Toronto from Kitchener to watch with other fans on such a momentous evening.
“It’s cathartic,” Mr. Mackenzie said. “We’re sad that they’re going, but what a hell of a way to go.”
Even attendees like Mary and Clive Bennett, Pickering residents in their 70s, who said they’d never listened to much of the Hip, were profoundly aware of the significance of the night.
“We knew this was going to be an event that everyone would be talking about,” Ms. Bennett said. “I admire that Gord is doing this with the prognosis that he has, and I think it’s a piece of Canadian history that we have to share in.”
Despite early technical gaffes, the air at the Exhibition grounds was thick with emotion as fans of all ages sat enraptured by the glittering silver-clad poet on the big screen, swaying to the tunes that defined an era.
And as Mr. Downie crooned of “that night in Toronto,” the crowd wept under the constellations and roared loudly enough to reach ears in Kingston.
theglobeandmail.com | Photo and Video: CBC.ca and CBC via Youtube, respectively.
One of the greatest rock bands to come out of Canada! Make sure you share this and follow me on Twitter ~ Dusty Fields SMM