Tuesday night in Ottawa, Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie debuted his highly anticipated solo project Secret Path to a sold out audience at The National Arts Centre’s Southham Hall. The concert marked the release of a multimedia project devoted to the story of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died after running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Northwestern Ontario, in an attempt to make the 1,000-kilometre journey home to Ogoki Post on foot. Sadly, his body was found along the railroad tracks, approximately 60 kilometres from the school near Kenora, on October 23, 1966.
The project began as a result of a February 6, 1967 article by Ian Adam for Maclean’s magazine called “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.” In addition to the album, the ‘Secret Path’ also features a graphic novel by award-winning author Jeff Lemire, and a corresponding animated film created, written, and directed by Gord Downie.
The evening’s performance featured Downie on vocals, with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, Dave Hamelin (formerly of the Stills), Charles Spearin (bass), Barenaked Ladies’ Kevin Hearn (piano), and Skydiggers’ Josh Finlayson performing the album of ten songs based on ten poems written by Gord Downie.
There was also a post-performance presentation hosted by Gord’s brother, Mike Downie along with members of the Downie and Wenjack families, band members and Jeff Lemire.
According to statements posted on www.gorddownie.com and www.secretpath.ca this project has been a long time coming for the 52 year old Kingston, Ontario native who wanted to bring national attention to one of the most “haunting legacies of the residential school system – the children who never made it home and acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history – the long-suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system – with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation” by showing us how as big as the world is, we are all connected to somebody.
Proceeds from the sale of Secret Path will go to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at The University of Manitoba.
To commemorate the memory of Chanie Wenjack, The Secret Path will also be broadcast by CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 9pm (9:30 NT) to mark the 50th anniversary of his tragic journey.