Tag Archives: Gord Downie

Secret Path: The Pathway to Reconciliation?

The opening segment of Secret Path, set to the haunting song “The Stranger” sung by Gord Downie, is perhaps the most illustrative for me. It juxtaposes Chanie Wenjack’s home, and his treacherous walk home. Comic artist Jeff Lemire’s use of colour was perfection. But what I found particularly refreshing was the lack of stereotypical representations. Chanie’s father was not the “wild man” that he and all of mainstream Canada were taught to believe. He was simply a father loved by his son, like fathers everywhere. And this is the secret. But I will come back to that.

Throughout Secret Path, Chanie is illustrated as a dark-haired boy clothed in nondescript clothing. A young, terrified and alone dark-haired boy. He played on swings like all children do, he liked to fish, like so many children learn to do. Even the scenes that illustrated punishment and abuse at the hands of a priest, could have been about any boy in attendance at any religious school—of which we now know there were many worldwide.

Following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, Calls To Action were made recommending mainstream Canadians learn about Indigenous culture. And why is this so important? It is not to make mainstream Canadians feel guilty—although we as a collective bear the burden of guilt—but rather to recognize the humanity of an entire segment of Canada that has been ignored, even denied, for centuries.

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With the gravitas the name Gord Downie brings to this project, this animation attempts to bring attention to the inequities present in the northern communities. Secret Path was not designed to teach the story of the Residential School System. That is told elsewhere. This project was, however, about honouring the life of a little boy, about recognizing who was to blame for the death of that little boy, and it was about reminding mainstream Canadians to be empathetic. Chanie, drawn as Lemire did, deliberately suggests he could be could be any little boy anywhere in rural Canada. He could be any child, living with happy childhood memories, any child with a family who loves him.

It is also important to keep in mind that while students in the RSS were being inculcated to believe they were heathen, dirty, subhuman beings not worthy of decent food let alone humane treatment whilst in the care of church and government, so too was mainstream taught the same. Secret Path is teaching us that for reconciliation to truly begin, all people living in Canada need to see the humanity in each of us. It is only with this acceptance that we can use that empathy as a motivation to build the bridges between cultures, from both shores. Chanie’s sister Pearl states, “As big as the world is, we are all connected in some way. I don’t know how, but I know that.” This is the very connection that the Canadian government and the RSS sought to destroy. This is the spark of humanity that is the key, the secret, to begin healing those connections again.

Will this be a project destined for classrooms everywhere? Perhaps. Regardless, it was beautifully structured, and Lemire’s work continues to mature. I was already a huge fan of his illustrative talents. Now I am more so!

What did you think of Secret Path? Comment below.

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Secret Path: The Chanie Wenjack Story is must-see TV

I had been waiting for a screener of The Secret Path to land in my Inbox the moment I heard about this project. I have been a casual listener of The Tragically Hip for more years than I care to admit and I am also a big fan of artist Jeff Lemire’s work. I first took note of Lemire’s work with Essex County, a finalist for Canada Reads in 2011. His style is uniquely his own. Once you are familiar with his work, there is no doubt in your mind when you come across his other projects.

I was going into this preview with some trepidation. I am a firm believer that as Canadians—as we move together through this process of reconciliation—mainstream or non-Indigenous peoples must let Indigenous voices tell their own stories. For too long, non-Indigenous peoples have told them, using those tales to their own ends, often against the very people for whom they belonged.

Lemire had recently created Equinox for the comic Justice League United, based upon Shannen Koostachin, and prior to publishing it he received permission from the community of Attiwapiskat. That Lemire was on board for the telling of the Chanie Wenjack story eased a few of my concerns.

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The animation opens with a brief introduction from Gord Downie as he travelled to Ogoki, Ont., to meet with Wenjack’s family. We meet his sister Pearl, who appears delighted Chanie’s story is finally being told, and bemused, “Who would have thought? Tragically Hip?” doing so.

The story itself is presented in a series of short clips, short vignettes if you will. Each features a different component of Chanie’s lonely and desperate escape from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School and his fruitless quest to reach his home. Each segment a different song sung by Downie, frontman for The Tragically Hip.

The first song shows memories of home, with Chanie and his family drawn in a warm colour palette in warm tones. This is the only sequence to feature those warm sunny colours. Throughout the rest of the animation, Lemire sticks to the cooler blue in his artistry reflecting the conditions Chanie traveled through, including freezing rain, while wearing only a light cotton jacket provided by the school.

The Secret Path airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBC and on the network website.

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Gord Downie announces Secret Path album and CBC animated film special

From a media release:

— Tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous boy who died running away from a residential school 50 years ago —

— Proceeds will be donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation —

STATEMENT BY GORD DOWNIE

Ogoki Post, Ontario

September 9, 2016

Mike Downie introduced me to Chanie Wenjack; he gave me the story from Ian Adams’ Maclean’s magazine story dating back to February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”

Chanie, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to walk home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried. I never knew Chanie, but I will always love him.

Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were. History will be re-written. We are all accountable, but this begins in the late 1800s and goes to 1996. “White” Canada knew – on somebody’s purpose – nothing about this. We weren’t taught it in school; it was hardly ever mentioned.

All of those Governments, and all of those Churches, for all of those years, misused themselves. They hurt many children. They broke up many families. They erased entire communities. It will take seven generations to fix this. Seven. Seven is not arbitrary. This is far from over. Things up north have never been harder. Canada is not Canada. We are not the country we think we are.

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.” (Murray Sinclair, Ottawa Citizen, May 24, 2015)

I have always wondered why, even as a kid, I never thought of Canada as a country – It’s not a popular thought; you keep it to yourself – I never wrote of it as so. The next hundred years are going to be painful as we come to know Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – but only when we do can we truly call ourselves, “Canada.”

——

Gord Downie began Secret Path as ten poems, incited by the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, fifty years ago, walking home to the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. Gord was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled “Charlie” by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story from February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”

The stories Gord’s poems tell were fleshed into the ten songs of Secret Path with producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin. Recording took place over two sessions at The Bathouse Recording Studios in Bath, Ontario, November and December 2013. The music features Downie on vocals and guitars, with Drew and Hamelin playing all other instruments. Guest musicians include Charles Spearin (bass), Ohad Benchetrit (lap steel/guitar), Kevin Hearn (piano), and Dave “Billy Ray” Koster (drums).

In winter 2014, Gord and Mike brought the recently finished Secret Path music to graphic novelist Jeff Lemire for his help illustrating Chanie Wenjack’s story, bringing him and the many children like him to life.

The ten song album will be released by Arts & Crafts accompanied by Lemire’s eighty-eight page graphic novel published by Simon & Schuster Canada. Secret Path will arrive on October 18, 2016, in a deluxe vinyl and book edition, and as a book with album download.

Downie’s music and Lemire’s illustrations have inspired The Secret Path, an animated film to be broadcast by CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).

The Secret Path was created, written, and directed by Gord Downie, composed by Gord Downie with Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin, and illustrated by author Jeff Lemire. The film is executive produced by Mike Downie, Patrick Downie, Gord Downie, and Sarah Polley. The Secret Path is produced by Entertainment One (eOne) and Antica Productions Ltd. in association with CBC, with the participation of the Canada Media Fund and the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit. Jocelyn Hamilton is executive producer for eOne Television and Stuart Coxe is executive producer for Antica Productions. Justin Stephenson is director of animation.

The broadcast date marks the fiftieth anniversary of the morning Chanie’s body was found frozen beside the railroad tracks only twelve miles into his journey.

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