BOBCAYGEON, Ont. – Organizing a Tragically Hip viewing party in his hometown of Bobcaygeon, Ont., isn’t just about being a fan of the legendary Canadian band for Aaron Shaw.
Shaw, who came up with the idea a couple weeks ago, has personal connections to cancer, which the Hip’s lead singer Gord Downie is also fighting.
“I’ve had dealings with family, friends, my favourite teacher who had passed away of cancer who was probably one of the biggest impacts of my life,” Shaw said.
“I want to be able to give back to the community as well as the cancer society.”
Bobcaygeon’s “A Concert under the Constellations” was one of many such events around Canada to be held Saturday.
Celebrations also took place internationally – at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Canada Olympic House will host a party for Canadian athletes along with their family and friends. Canadians Abroad of Southern California was to have a viewing party in Los Angeles.
Bobcaygeon is shutting down its main street to screen the final stop of the Hip’s “Man Machine Poem” tour, which is to be aired on CBC.
The 15-show tour, which ended in Kingston, Ont., Saturday night, was announced after Downie revealed earlier this year that he’s battling terminal brain cancer.
The community became well known following the Hip’s hit single “Bobcaygeon” from their 1998 album “Phantom Power.” The song earned a Juno Award for Best Single in 2000.
WATCH: The Tragically Hip play Courage as 2nd song of night
Over six thousand people either stood or sat on lawn chairs along Bolton St. where both adults and children took in the show on three jumbo screens set up throughout the community’s main stretch. Despite technical difficulties with the screens blowing over due to wind and getting the projector to play the live stream, people enjoyed beer and sang out choruses to their favourite songs.
Group pictures and selfies were taken with family and friends as many in Bobcaygeon wanted to remember this special Canadian moment. Children sat on their parents laps or on blankets.
Donations were being accepted for Downey and brain cancer research.
“I think they certainly helped put us on the map,” Shaw said. “Anywhere you go in the world when you’re travelling, you say Tragically Hip and they say Bobcaygeon. It’s amazing. I’ve been to Thailand, I’ve been to Dubai, I say it and they say Bobcaygeon.”
Celebrations for the viewing party began early in Bobcaygeon. Hip songs blared from boats at the Gordon Yacht Harbour Marina on Pigeon Lake and the song Bobcaygeon – a local favourite – played at several local businesses throughout the day.
Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, an organizer of the viewing party in Bobcaygeon and city councillor for the community’s ward in Kawartha Lakes, says that hosting the event just made sense.
WATCH: The Tragically Hip kick off final show of Man Machine Poem tour with ’50 Mission Cap’
“Why not,” she said. “The Tragically Hip mean a lot to Bobcaygeon and if you can produce something on our main street that we can close it down, have everybody come and celebrate the Hip, Gord Downie, our town, our community, that’s what it’s for.
“I think it will be emotional. It’s going to be quite the event.”
Around Canada and online, social media was buzzing at full throttle with scores of tweets from people sharing their thoughts about Saturday’s concert and information about where viewing parties were being held.
“Amazing seeing the viewing parties worldwide…expats everywhere, we are all in Kingston tonight!!!!,” said one tweet.
“Passing by lots of ppl en route to Tragically Hip viewing in Assiniboine Park Winnipeg. Lots of yard parties too. A shared celebration,” another post said.
People streamed into the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre that seats upwards to 600 for a viewing party.
“It sounds cliche however they have been the soundtrack to many crucial moments in my life so I wanted to be a part of it and say goodbye to Gord,” Sonya Howard, who saw the Hip in concert as a teen, said in Vancouver.
“He’s been such an integral part I think of the Canadian music scene… It’s just sad he won’t be here to keep sharing his gift.”
There was similar reaction at nearby Woodward’s Atrium where Edward Xie and friends took in the show.
“Besides them being a great rock band, I guess it’s that they tell the stories of average Canadians,” Xie said. “They tell a lot of stories that everyone knows and a lot of stories that people aren’t familiar with and they let us explore our past.”
Meanwhile in Bobcaygeon, Seymour-Fagan also owns a local cafe and says that the event has been shared over 75,000 times on her business’s Facebook page alone. She says that the Hip’s hit single “really kind of epitomizes how this place feels.”
The community has drawn interest from local media and outlets such as Al Jazeera. In the community tourist guide, it says that Downie may be the only one to understand the lyrical mysteries Bobcaygeon carries.
The Tragically Hip played a concert in Bobcaygeon in 2011, which attracted thousands of fans.
“I think it’s true Canadiana,” local resident Dave Poole said of the band.