Geeks and Beats podcast, episode 249: Gord Downie’s Secret Path revisited

The scared boy and the rock star. The story of Chanie Wenjack is one of trying to get home.

We’ve all been there, exhausted from travel, maybe a little cold, a little hungry, a little cranky, but we have to keep moving in order to find a way home to where it’s safe and warm and comfortable.

Chanie Wenjack was 12 when he tried to do just that — he tried to walk home. He didn’t realize it was 600 kilometers away in Ogoki Post on the Marten Falls Reserve. He left the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, where he’d spent three years, with nine other children in October 1966.

Those other children were found and brought back to the school. Chanie wasn’t found until October 22, a week later; he had died from starvation and exposure.

Chanie’s story, sadly, is not a rarity. Just last week, on Orange Shirt Day — meant to draw attention to the residential schools across Canada that housed Indigenous children who’d been taken from their families and forced to “assimilate” in Canadian culture — the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation published a list of 2,800 children who died in residential schools.

His story is one that struck deep in the heart of Gord Downie, who wrote the Secret Path as both a series of poems and songs and first performed them in October 2016, just after the Tragically Hip finished what would be their last tour.

Secret Path Week, now in its second year, is meant to honour both Downie and Wenjack and their deaths, on October 17 and October 22, respectively.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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