It took Kathryn McLean everything in her power not to cry when she met Gord Downie in the summer of 2016 while working backstage at the Air Canada Centre during The Tragically Hip’s last tour.
“He was trying and you could tell he was struggling,” McLean said.
McLean is one of the many mourning the death of Downie, frontman of “Canada’s band,” The Tragically Hip, who died on Oct. 17 from glioblastoma.
Fans of Downie and The Tragically Hip channelled their grief into song.
About 100 people gathered in East Lynn Park in East York on Oct. 19 to sing along to their Hip favourites and celebrate Downie’s life. Carrying candles, lighters and instruments, the crowd began to sing “Bobcaygeon.” When they got to the line “That night in Toronto,” their voices rang out in unison.
Strumming the chords of the famous Hip song on her guitar was Jen Sant, 37, who lives in East York.
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12, and The Hip has been a huge influence on me,” Sant said.
She remembers seeing her first Tragically Hip concert at the ACC shortly after the arena opened in February 1999.
“I remember thinking that Gord Downie was such a force on stage,” Sant said.
“Watching footage of him is amazing, but there’s nothing like being in front of him and in the same room as him when he was on stage and dancing.”
Organizers advertised the East York event on social media and received a positive response.
“I think it (was) a really great way for the community to come together and sing a song or two in the park,” said Sheri Hebdon, who works for the Danforth East Community Association.
“Rather than us all privately celebrating, honouring, grieving, in our homes, why don’t we do something meaningful and memorable?”
DECA was also accepting donations for the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which helps create new relationships and promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
As for Kathryn McLean, she had been playing The Hip on repeat for two days following Downie’s death, and her young son had been singing along.
“He’s just starting to get into it,” she said.
“I hope he grows up just appreciating their music and just what (Downie) stood for.”