Music fans knew this day was coming after Gord Downie was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer nearly two years ago.
Still, it was a shock. Especially to fans in his hometown like Matt Chestnut.
“He’s a wonderful guy, wonderful music and a great part of my life as well,” Chestnut said.
A makeshift memorial started to grow in Market Square on Wednesday as fans came to pay their respects with flowers, cards and candles.
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson also laid flowers and spoke about the band’s lasting impact on Kingston.
He says it’s the personal stories he remembers most.
“Remember hearing the story about the individual I think was diagnosed with ALS and was faced with huge medical bills and yet the band came together and did a fundraising concert to help this one person,” Paterson recalled.
The lineup to sign the book of condolences in Market Square continued to grow as time neared for a vigil planned for Wednesday evening, with many in line remembering the man and his music, but Downie’s legacy is far greater: He was a philanthropist, an environmentalist through Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and he also dedicated much of his time championing Indigenous causes. Work that led to his induction into the Order of Canada.
Kip Pegley works in the Cultural Studies department at Queen’s University. Pegley describes being moved by Downie’s Indigenous advocacy.
“He has described it as the most important work of his life,” Pegley said. “He was this Canadian icon but at the same time he was very critical of the nation-state of Canada and the ways in which we have looked over and abused aboriginal people from the get-go.”
The legendary Hip frontman was equal parts singer, activist, artist and occasional actor.
For many, his music played as the soundtrack for the nation.
From their humble beginnings as a local bar band, The Hip rose to national prominence over 30 years ago, influencing many musicians along the way.
Many recall Downie’s emotional farewell concert in Kingston in August 2016. The event was watched by more than 11 million people across the country and 25,000 fans who crowded into Market Square.
David Lang and Scott Stanton say they were on tour with their band Current Swell for that concert, but caught it on TV. Stanton says he was sitting with his manager at the time.
“Everyone in the bar was bawling. There were no commercial breaks, it was just like you could tell it was like this Canadian moment that meant so much to Canada.”
No doubt, many of those fans will be cranking up Hip songs today and the days to come, to remember Gord Downie, who leaves behind four children.
He was only 53 years old.