Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie is set to release a new solo album just weeks after The Hip’s final show of the Man Machine Poem Tour in hometown Kingston, Ont.
The new album, titled “Secret Path,” is dedicated to a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died from hunger and exposure trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
“I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him,” wrote Downie in a statement released Friday.
“Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were.”
Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack’s frozen body was found in 1966 along the railroad tracks near Kenora, Ont, a week after he ran away from school.
Downie’s new album – which will be accompanied by a graphic novel and a film – aims to educate Canadians about his story and about residential schools.
Wenjack’s death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools, where students were subjected to abuse, neglect and “re-programming” that has since been deemed cultural genocide.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found more than 300 children died and thousands were physically and sexually abused at residential schools. There were 18 residential schools for indigenous children in Ontario alone. The last one didn’t close until 1991.
The Commission heard from thousands of survivors and combed through historical documents to come up with a picture of life at Canada’s residential schools – and it wasn’t pretty. In many cases, poor living conditions, inadequate food and government indifference or hostility worsened problems for students.
Corporal punishment was common, with many students describing being strapped or beaten, and many were sexually abused. Students at various schools were also used as involuntary guinea pigs in a number of studies on nutrition.
In 2008, then prime minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the government for the multi-generational upheaval caused by residential schools.
In May, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities for the “brutalities” suffered at residential schools, calling it one of the most “shameful chapters” in Canada’s history.
“’White’ Canada knew – on somebody’s purpose – nothing about this. We weren’t taught it; it was hardly ever mentioned,” Downie said.
“This is far from over. Things up north have never been harder.”
According to CBC, Downie visited Wenjack’s family in Marten Falls First Nation, also known as Ogoki Post, on Thursday.
The new album, graphic novel and film are set to be released in October, which also marks the 50th anniversary since Wenjack’s death.
The announcement comes just 20 days since Downie preformed an emotional show with The Tragically Hip in their hometown of Kingston, that was widely described as the Hip’s final show. In May, Downie revealed he was suffering from incurable brain cancer.
During the show, Downie launched into one of his trademark onstage rants, calling out to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in the crowd for the show.
“Well, you know, prime minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go,” Downie said from the stage.
“It’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there,” he continued, “but it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”
WATCH: ‘We’re in good hands, folks’: Gord Downie thanks PM Trudeau for attending final show
“Secret Path” is Downie’s fifth solo album. In January 2001, the singer released “Coke Machine Glow,” followed by “Battle of the Nudes” in 2003. In 2010, “The Grand Bounce” was released followed by “Gord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun” in 2014.
– With files from Adam Frisk and Leslie Young