Londoners Mourn Gord Downie

Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip perform to a crowd of over 9,900 fans at Budweiser Gardens August 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of Blair Henatyzen.

The death of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie has led to a collective sadness across the nation, including here in London.

Stores along Richmond Row blasted the iconic Canadian rock group’s tunes Wednesday in a somber tribute to the 53-year-old singer/songwriter. Londoners strolling through Victoria Park were quick to reminisce about past concerts and a man who dedicated his final days to music, social justice, and reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people.

“It’s the loss of a life too young and obviously still a very talented, eager man,” said Londoner John Sutton. “Cancer is such a terrible disease.”

Downie died Tuesday night after a more than year long battle with brain cancer. He revealed that he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an incurable form of cancer, in May 2016. The shocking news came with the bittersweet announcement that the band would set out on what would be its final national 15 date tour.

“It was very brave. Obviously he was suffering the effects of the disease. But he gave the fans what they wanted to see and he seemed to give a great performance and so it took a lot of courage to go out there feeling I am sure the way he felt physically,” said Sutton, who noted he is still moved by the Hip’s 1998 hit Bobcaygeon.

That sentiment was echoed by long-time Hip fan Darren Sattler, who had the chance to see the legendary group perform twice – once in Toronto and once in Sarnia.

“The fact he did that last tour speaks phenomenally about the man who loved his fans so much and cared so much about the people that loved him that he just wanted to go out with one last hurrah,” said Sattler. “It’s a testament to the fact the man was a saint and deserving of every praise he gets.”

Getting a bit choked up, Craig Smith called the passing of Downie “a big loss to Canada and the world.”

“His integrity, his advocacy. He is a normal guy, he had a family, and he really did the right things. He showed the rest of the world that we are a place of unity and inclusion, which is good,” said Smith.

Downtown resident Pam Samuels recalled the night the Hip played their final concert of the Man Machine Poem tour.

“When they did that final concert in Kingston and the city set-up a screen right here in the band shell in Victoria Park, I came over because I live close by and it was such an amazing vibe in the park that night. All these people came together to watch it on the big screen, all together,” said Samuels. “It was a real tribute to the Hip and to Gord Downie.”

Samuels took comfort in the fact Downie had the time to say good-bye to his fans and was surrounded by family when he died. A statement posted by the band states Downie’s beloved children and family were close by when he passed.

As a tribute to Downie, London City Hall and other city facilities will be illuminated in red and white Wednesday night.

“He’s a Canadian icon. One of the best bands ever. I’ve seen the Hip at least 20 times and I’m going to listen to their music forever,” said Steve Button, who was one of the 9,900 fans to pack Budweiser Gardens for the band’s final London show on August 8, 2016.

“It was one of the best concerts ever, it was packed, and bittersweet,” Button said of the more than two-hour performance.

During that show, Downie referred to London as the Tragically Hip’s “home away from home” and recalled meeting his wife in the city. He also asked if anyone in the crowd had been at their first London show and laughed when the entire crowd yelled in response.

The final tour helped raise funds and awareness of the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. To date, the fund has raised $1.7-million.

“I’m proud of him and what he accomplished and how he portrayed himself,” said Londoner and Hip fan Jenn Verslype. “He gave a lot of strength to people going through that disease. Rest in peace, Gord Downie.”