Canada's Heart Is Broken
We are well into autumn here and I find myself reflecting on how the past four months have been a grand period of exploring for me. I’ve been working as a patroller on Le P’tit Train du Nord Linear Park
, and it has been an incredible experience: over the summer and into fall, I rode my bike five days a week along this magnificent 232 kilometre long trail. I met fascinating people from all over the world, saw birds and wildlife every day and got to see the land change with the seasons in a very intimate way. Spending my days outdoors, immersed in the spectacular beauty of the landscape has been sublime. Sometimes the human element was, well… let’s call it interesting, but all in all, it was a fantastic experience.
Last ride of the season, logged over 3600 kilometres this year.
I rode my bike over 3600 kilometres over the summer, which gave me lot of time to think (or as happened more often that not, to not think and just bliss out to the views in the sunshine). Which I came to realize, was exactly what I needed, but it left me very little time to make art. I find it really hard to do the work in the little spaces left in between all of life’s obligations. Well, for now that’s my reality, so the work gets done regardless, just more slowly than I’d like.
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Credit: Rogers Media
Most recently, I’ve been reflecting on the work and life of Gord Downie
who died last week, a victim of glioblastoma. He was a person who I admired tremendously… an extraordinary creative soul… singer, songwriter, poet, activist, showman. A master storyteller who has been dubbed Canada’s unofficial poet laureate. He was weird, brilliant, riveting, enigmatic. Mystifying. Inspiring. A lot has been said very well in the media about his life, his music and his work on behalf of our indigenous people, so I have little to add, but what I’ve been drawing inspiration from is how he was so filled with the creative spirit throughout his life, even after the diagnosis and surgery that left him with some major impairments. When most of us would have been focused on simply trying to survive, he doubled down and put out some of the most important work of his life
During the long ovations he received during the last tour, he stood alone on stage, visibly trying to meet the eye and connect with each and every person in the crowd. Photo: David Bastedo
On his stage persona: “I surrender. I throw myself on the altar of song and I see my own personal musical life in fast flashes… I do what the music urges.” Photo: Andrew Chin/Getty Images
Along with all the Hip stuff, the media has been playing old interviews with Gord speaking on art and on his creative process: “I write every day. I walk around in silent conversation with my latest unfinished songs. I love it, I love all aspects of it.” He spoke of how his favourite moment of the day would come fireside at day’s end with all his writing materials around him. He had a notebook that was a thick as a phone book, filled with ideas and poetry – I can only imagine the brilliance in those pages, and I hope that someday we get to see it in some form.
I’m having some trouble wrapping my mind around it all and putting into words what an incredible artist he was, but the main point is that I’m in awe of how he kept the fire of his creativity burning so consistently throughout his life. As Stars singer Torquil Campbell said, he was the “gold standard of how to be an artist and how to be a person.”
The Secret Path was one of Gord’s last projects, about which he said, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m happy”. It is brilliant, and heartbreaking. Last December, First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde presented him with an eagle feather – a gift from the creator above — and he was given a Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which can be roughly translated as “Man who walks among the stars.”
On our country’s painful and necessary reconciliation with our Indigenous people: “To become a country, and truly call ourselves Canada, it means we must become one. We must walk down a path of reconciliation from now on. Together and forever.” Photo: Stephen McGill
And so, Canada mourns our beloved poet, who is now at rest. For many of us, he sang the stories of our lives in a way that made us feel connected to each other. He never tried to tell us who we are, but we saw ourselves reflected in his words. He challenged us to face our dark secrets, and he exhorted us to live in the moment. He humbly gave us everything he had, and as Justin Trudeau stated last week, we are less as a country without Gord Downie in it. No dress rehearsal, this is our life.