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Gord Downie Memorial In Kingston, Ont. Swarmed By Tragically Hip Fans

"It's like a pillar of the community has been taken away from us.''

10/18/2017 18:46 EDT | Updated 10/18/2017 20:51 EDT
Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press
A woman places flowers at a growing memorial for the late Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip, in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday.

KINGSTON, Ont. — The unmistakable voice of Gord Downie echoed through the streets of his hometown of Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday as locals celebrated the Tragically Hip frontman's life and legacy.

Whether it was inside the pubs or at the city's Springer Market Square, a steady rotation of the Hip's songs raged against the heavy sadness in the air. Downie, who was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, died Tuesday at 53.

"It was a moment we all knew was coming, we just didn't know when,'' said Scott Hallman, who runs a hot dog stand in a local park.

"It's like a pillar of the community has been taken away from us.''

The feeling is one many others spoke of as they walked through Springer Market Square where thousands gathered on Aug. 20, 2016, to watch a public screening of the band's sold-out final concert.

A collection of flowers and candles surrounded a commemorative stone for the band, and by mid-afternoon a long sheet of paper was splayed out for people to write their own tributes.

It's like a pillar of the community has been taken away from us.Scott Hallman

A few steps away, hundreds of people lined up throughout the day to sign a book of condolences.

Tammy Bush brought her children to witness the outpouring of emotion firsthand. Wiping away a few tears, she fondly remembered taking her 15-year-old son Brad Francis to the Hip's final Ottawa show — her son's first live concert.

"I told him, 'You're never going to see another concert like that.' The emotion in that building was incredible,'' she said.

Bush then paused to reflect on the lingering calm in Kingston as the community digests news of Downie's passing.

"It's a different feeling in the city today without him,'' she said.

"Kingston embraced him. He's like our son. He's everybody's friend, everybody's brother.''

Stan MacLachlan, a Toronto resident, decided to stop by the memorial to pay his respects while visiting his son at Queen's University.

"It's a testament to what he's meant to Canadians,'' MacLachlan said. "He's going to inspire better people.''

A candlelight vigil was planned for Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Earlier, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson laid a wreath dedicated to Downie at city hall, which was to be illuminated in red and white in the evening to honour Downie.

"It's tragic news and a sad day for Kingston,'' Paterson said in an interview.

Lars Hagberg/CANADIAN PRESS
Kingston's Mayor Bryan Paterson writes messages for Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip on a banner in downtown Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday.

Lars Hagberg/CANADIAN PRESS
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson places flowers on The Tragically Hip commemorative plaque in Kingston, Ont. on Wednesday.

"But you can't help but think about all the memories, all of the amazing things that he and the rest of the band have done for this community. I often reflect on how it doesn't matter what your musical tastes are, if you're in Kingston, you're a big fan of Gord and the Tragically Hip. They have done so much.''

Paterson, 40, said the wreath ceremony was a chance to say thank you to Downie and convey how much he will be missed.

"(The band) was such a source of pride for Kingston that we would call ourselves the hometown of the Hip,'' he said.

Lars Hagberg/CANADIAN PRESS
People stand with candles during a vigil for Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip in downtown Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday.

Outside the local arena, where Downie and the Hip played their final show in August 2016, a public bench was turned into another memorial a few steps away from the rock radio station. A fedora similar to the ones Downie wore on the "Man Machine Poem'' tour was nestled between a blanket of flowers.

Passersby stopped to look at the tribute and some picked up pieces of chalk strewn on the sidewalk to write a personal message.

Local transit buses carried their own tributes on their route displays. It was succinct, but seemed to speak volumes for many: "Gord, We'll Miss You.''

With files from Neil Davidson

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