Concerts at the NAC are always special. Add to the fact that Hip lead singer Gord Downie is appearing, and spines start tingling.
Fresh from The Hip’s summer Canadian tour, and the televised event of the season (thank you again, CBC), Gord brings to the NAC his live show, Secret Path. The show in Ottawa, and one in Toronto, are being held in conjunction with the release of an album, an eighty-eight page graphic novel, and a film of the same title.
Secret Path, began as ten poems, written by Downie, based on the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died fifty years ago on October 22,1966 fleeing the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario. You can read the 1967 Maclean’s cover story about Chanie Wenjack here.
Downie was particularly struck by the story. As he put it in his statement about the project,
“He was walking the railroad tracks to the family he was taken from, over 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor know how to find it, but, like so many kids – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried. I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him.”
Recording of the developed songs took place over two sessions at the Bathouse in Bath, Ontario, in November and December 2013. The music features Downie on vocals and guitars, with Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin playing all other instruments. There were guest contributions by Charles Spearin (bass), Ohad Benchetrit (lap steel/guitar), Kevin Hearn (piano), and Dave “Billy Ray” Koster (drums).
During the final stages of recording, Downie, and his brother Mike, met with illustrator Jeff Lemire. They were hoping that Jeff would be interested in creating a graphic novel to accompany the album. He didn’t need much convincing.
“Before we left the coffee shop I knew I was going to do it. I had to. Chanie’s story is one that will not let you go once you hear it. It’s a story that can’t be ignored. And yet, somehow, it has been ignored. By nearly all of us.”
Downie’s hope for Secret Path is that it educates Canadians young and old on this omitted part of iour history, urging the entire nation to play an active role in the preservation of Indigenous lives and culture in Canada.
To that end, Downie has pledged to donate proceeds from the multimedia project to support the work of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba in honouring the stories of Residential School Survivors.
NCTR Director Ry Moran is more than impressed by the scope of the project.
“It is exceptionally powerful when we see one of Canada’s most well-known and loved performers, Gord Downie, lend his voice in the struggle for Truth and Reconciliation. For far too long in this country, the stories of the children that never returned home from the Residential Schools have been ignored or silenced by mainstream Canada.”
Downie continues the thought.
“Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. I am trying in this small way to help spread what Murray Sinclair said: This is not an aboriginal problem. This is a Canadian problem. Because at the same time that aboriginal people were being demeaned in the schools and their culture and language were being taken away from them and they were being told that they were inferior, they were pagans, that they were heathens and savages and that they were unworthy of being respected — that very same message was being given to the non-aboriginal children in the public schools as well… They need to know that history includes them.”
The Ottawa performance of Secret Path is part of the NAC Presents program. Heather Gibson, Executive Producer of NAC Presents knows the importance of this project and the live show.
“NAC Presents is thrilled to be a part of such an important show with one of Canada’s most esteemed songwriters and performers. Through Secret Path, Gord Downie is shining his spotlight on the national issue of reconciliation. NAC Presents is honoured to have been chosen by Gord Downie as the place to share this story.”
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Secret Path is being presented on Tuesday, October 18, 2016, at 8 pm. Tickets are $50.
The Secret Path film will be broadcast by the CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 9pm (9:30 NT).
You can donate to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation here.