A Nation's Farewell: Remembering The Tragically Hip's Historic Finale - The JUNO Awards

Seven years ago, fans across the country gathered to watch as one of the nation’s most beloved rock bands, The Tragically Hip took to the stage for their final show. An unforgettable and bittersweet evening, the concert served as a final farewell to lead singer Gord Downie as well as a celebration of the band’s indelible impact on Canadian culture.

For over three decades, The Tragically Hip led by the enigmatic frontman Gord Downie delivered poetic lyrics and powerful melodies that resonated deeply with audiences nationwide. Their music, quintessentially Canadian, encapsulated the very essence of the nation’s spirit, narrating tales of life in Canada.

The Tragically Hip on the Red Carpet. 2005 Juno Awards. April 3, 2005, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In May 2016, shortly after the news of Downie’s terminal cancer diagnosis sent shockwaves through the country, The Tragically Hip announced a cross-Canada tour which sold out in minutes. While the band refrained from explicitly calling the tour their last, the
Man Machine Poem tour would be their final chapter together as a band.

Kicking off July 22 in Victoria, British Columbia, the 10-city, 15-show Canadian arena tour culminated in Kingston, Ontario—the city where The Tragically Hip’s journey began. On August 20, over 6,700 individuals filled the K-Rock Centre while an additional 25,000 gathered in nearby Springer Market Square to watch a live feed of the concert.

The atmosphere was electric as the crowd welcomed the band to the stage with an impromptu rendition of O’Canada. Downie, accompanied by his bandmates of over 30 years: guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay delivered a triumphal three-hour set featuring The Hip’s most classic songs.

Among the attendees was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Tragically Hip fan since high school. “This is a moment that’s going to be extremely powerful for all Canadians, I know,” he told CBC. “Gord and the Tragically Hip are an inevitable and essential part of what we are and who we are as a country. And tonight we get to say thanks, and we get to celebrate that.”

The concert’s impact was magnified by its simultaneous broadcast across Canada by CBC allowing fans from coast to coast to join in the experience. Compared to the Superbowl in terms of national attention, over 11.7 million Canadians tuned in as communities gathered in pubs, drive-in theatres and homes across the country to witness the final show.

In response to the unwavering support of fans, in between performances, Downie expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the audience stating, “Thank you, people, for keeping me pushing and keeping me pushing.”

After three rounds of encores, the evening came to a close as the band concluded the show with their biggest hit, “Ahead By A Century.” Once the song ended the group put down their instruments, stood arm-in-arm and walked off stage as an emotional crowd screamed their goodbyes.

More than a year after their farewell performance in Kingston, on October 17, 2017, Downie succumbed to his battle with brain cancer. Even now, seven years later, the resonance of that emotionally charged evening lingers within the hearts of Canadians serving as a testament to Downie’s legacy.

Featured image: CBC Music live stream of the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour finale in Kingston.