TORONTO — The lead singer and songwriter of The Tragically Hip said Friday that he will be releasing a new solo album with an accompanying graphic novel and animated film.
Gord Downie’s latest endeavors come just weeks after the band performed its final concert. The singer announced earlier this year that he has terminal brain cancer.
The new project is inspired by Canada’s state-funded church schools that First Nation children for more than 100 years were forced to attend.
The “Secret Path” project tells the story of a young First Nation boy who died in 1966 after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario.
“I never knew Chanie, but I will always love him,” Downie said in a statement. “Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were.”
Beginning in the 19th century, Canada required more than 150,000 aboriginal children to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools against their parents’ wishes, in an attempt to rid them of their native cultures and languages and integrate them into mainstream society.
There were more than 130 such schools operating across Canada with the last one closing in 1996.
The federal government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the once-mandatory schools was rampant and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an historic apology in Parliament in 2008. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages and losing touch with their parents and customs.
Downie said he learned the story of Chanie Wenjack from a 1967 Maclean’s magazine article.
“All of those governments, and all of those churches, for all of those years, misused themselves,” Downie said. “They hurt many children. They broke up many families. They erased entire communities.”
The Tragically Hip, an indelible part of Canada’s national identity with songs about hockey, small towns and Canadian literature, ended its 15-show “Man Machine Poem” tour to a sold-out crowd. Tickets for all stops on the the summer tour sold out almost immediately, leading the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast their final show, with millions tuning in across the country.
Downie said he began “Secret Path” as 10 poems that were turned into the 10 songs for the album, which was recorded over two sessions near Kingston in late 2013.
The album and book will be released on Oct. 18 and the film will air on CBC on Oct. 23.
Proceeds from the album and graphic novel will go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the residential school system.