For many Canadians, The Tragically Hip have represented much more than a band with 14 JUNO Awards and 13 albums. They are the soundtrack to their summers in the Canadian wilderness, their winters warming up at house parties, their first concert, their last dance at their wedding.
For many, The Hip have made an indelible mark on their personal history, so when the band revealed in May that lead singer Gord Downie had been given a terminal diagnosis, the nation, as a collective whole, felt the mourning of a fallen hero, a poetic genius, a friend.
Rather than silently grieve, The Hip announced they would be celebrating Downie’s final days the best way possible – by going on tour one last time. The 11-date Man Machine Poem Tour sold out in minutes, with stops that would take the band across the country that has loved them with a fanatical energy that is reserved for only a handful of acts in a lifetime.
Last night, The Hip played their first of three sold-out shows in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. The night’s setlist included some of The Hip’s biggest tunes from their 30-plus year career, including “Little Bones,” “My Music At Work,” “Gift Shop,” “Ahead By A Century,” “At The Hundredth Meridian, ” “Wheat Kings,” “Fifty-Mission Cap,” “Bobcaygeon,” and “Poets.”
Toronto is fitting as one of the final stops before The Hip’s last show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario on August 20.
It was Toronto’s iconic Horseshoe Tavern that was the setting for The Hip’s show that would land them a record deal with MCA. It’s the Six that was the inspiration for the band’s track “Toronto #4.” It was at the ACC last night that Maple Leaf legend and “Fifty Mission Cap” inspiration Bill Barilko‘s jersey was returned to the rafters.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) August 11, 2016
And it’s been Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital that has been treating Downie.
To thank Downie and The Hip, who donated proceeds from the tour’s ticket sales, as well as all those who have donated to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research, the staff at Sunnybrook Hospital recorded themselves singing part of The Hip’s 1992 hit, “Courage.”
Gathered around a giant heart on the hospital’s lawn with the words ‘Thank You’ written inside, the emotional video drives home the gravity of Downie’s diagnosis.
Dr. James Perry, who has been treating Downie, has been on tour with the band for the final shows and says “If you want to know how Gord’s doing, go to a show. I don’t know where he [gets] the energy from, he draws it from the crowd and he’s such a pro. He said if they were not performing at their best, they wouldn’t be doing it.”
“They’re just having a tremendous time and everyone understands the significance of this,” says Perry. For so many fans, The Hip have been of significance in their lives for years, and now it’s time to return the favour.
The Tragically Hip’s final show in Kingston, Ontario on Saturday, August 20 will be live-streamed starting at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBC.