Last August, the K-Rock Centre in Kingston played host to not just any concert by one of Canada’s most popular bands, but a poignant potential farewell from some hometown heroes.
The final show of the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour was a moment the mayor of Kingston says he’ll never forget.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” says mayor Bryan Paterson. “Even to this day when people ask me what’s been the highlight of being mayor, I always point to that evening.”
The show naturally sold out quickly and city officials realized something had to be done to accommodate the many thousands more who wanted to pay their respects to the beloved band and their ailing frontman Gord Downie, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
So they arranged for a live feed of the concert to be aired in Market Square behind Kingston City Hall.
Hip guitarist Paul Langlois spoke about the Kingston concert for the first time at the Canadian Screen Awards earlier this spring.
“There were a lot of feelings circulating out there — kindness, empathy, sadness, hope, celebration and love,” he said.
Queen’s University professor Robert Morrison blogged about the momentous event and says it was that outpouring of love that he remembers.
“Given what’s happened recently in Charlottesville, or in Spain, the Hip for me stands for unity,” Morrison said. “It stands for bringing people together, it stands for our better selves.”
Gord Hunter has known the Tragically Hip since they were another struggling bar band and says the band has used its fame well, including their work with Indigenous people and helping Hunter with his fledgling fundraiser for Parkinson’s, Light of Day.
It’s estimated 27,000 fans filled Market Square to watch the August 20th live feed of the concert.
They were also joined by millions more watching it at home on television,
Some have argued it was a rare moment of unity in Canadian history — and a lesson for the world.
Not a bad legacy for five guys from Kingston that started out just trying to make a living playing rock and roll.