Gord Downie and the Hip's help in cancer research

Downie's new album Away is Mine comes out three years after his death and days after Brain Cancer Awareness Day.

Monika Warzecha 4 minute read October 16, 2020
Gord Downie

The Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie performs at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont. on Monday August 8, 2016. Craig Glover/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

Gord Downie ‘s irrepressible spirit continues to shine on through new music.

The Tragically Hip singer and songwriter recorded a solo album, Away is Mine, just months before his untimely death at the age of 53 on October 17, 2017. The new album, Downie’s second posthumous work after 2017’s Introduce Yerself, was officially released by Arts & Crafts on Friday.

The release comes just days after Brain Cancer Awareness Day on Oct. 14 and almost three years to the day of Downie’s death.

He was upfront about his diagnosis with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that affects about four people in 100,000 in Canada, according to the Brain Tumour Registry of Canada.The band released an official statement on their website in spring 2016, explaining the “very tough news” of Downie’s terminal diagnosis.

But the somber announcement was followed by the promise of one final blow-out tour across Canada, with the band stating, “this feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.” That summer’s Man Machine Poem Tour was exuberant and bittersweet, with a third of Canadians reportedly tuning in to concert coverage.

Patrick Downie, the singer-songwriter’s brother, recently told the Toronto Sun: “[Gord] had such a strong constitution. Even in his healthy life, I often compared him to a professional athlete. He always had this boundless energy and fortitude.”

The Man Machine Poem Tour also raised thousands of dollars for cancer research. The Canadian Cancer Society says that thanks to the band’s efforts to raise awareness, it received almost $400,000 in honour of Downie and the Tragically Hip. The money went towards clinical trials in cancer therapy, supportive care and prevention that are coordinated out of a Kingston, Ontario-oncology group.

I can now hear an artist who’s now at his freest, most unshackled self. And that, to me, gives me a lot of peace

The Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research was also established in 2016 at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. The fund helps “support the Gord Downie Fellowship in Brain Oncology, construction of the G. Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre, including clinical and research space for neurologists who care for patients with brain cancer, research in personalized glioblastoma radiation treatment and the adoption of an institution-wide approach to cancer care for Indigenous patients at Sunnybrook.” As of June 2019, Canadians help raise $2.5 million for the fund.

In an interview with the CBC after the cross-Canada tour wrapped up, Downie shared his experiences with brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. “My memory is what used to be my forte, and now I can’t remember hardly anything. I have Peter written on my hand. I have a few things written on my hands,” he told Peter Mansbridge.

However, Downie did say the diagnosis gave him time and a “long kind of way to do some of these things that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Towards the end of his life, Downie worked on causes close to his heart such as the Gord Downie-Charlie Wenjack Fund, which aims to shine a light on Indigenous reconciliation and the history of residential schools in Canada. He also kept making music. The Globe and Mail also reportsAway is Mine isn’t the last work we’ll be hearing.

Away is Mine is something of a family affair with Downie’s daughters Clare and Willo designing the album art and his son Louis on the drums. The album is dedicated to Downie’s youngest son Clemens.

What’s his brother’s take on the new work? “I can now hear an artist who’s now at his freest, most unshackled self. And that, to me, gives me a lot of peace,” he told the Sun.

If you or someone you care about is living with cancer, connecting with a support network can help to not only learn ways to better manage their health, but also share experiences with others. Some Canadian resources include the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network and the Canadian Cancer Society.  

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