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How The Tragically Hip Connect Canadians To Nature

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One of my earliest memories of music came from the speakers of my dad's 1969 Beaumont convertible with the top down. I remember sitting in the back seat, my hair blowing through the wind, and my sister sitting shotgun beside my dad. Blaring and crackling from the radio was The Tragically Hip's "Poets." Coincidentally, this was my dad's favourite song, invoking him to sing along to Gord Downie's powerful lyrics while tapping along to the exquisite drumming of Johnny Fay.

From that day on, with each turn of the wheel in that old car and fond gaze of my own father, I have been a fan of The Tragically Hip.

The Tragically Hip has heavily influenced Canadians ever since the band first broke the scene 30 years ago, and The Hip's music continues to influence Canadians of all ages to this day.

This act of tying nature to human connection and emotion is something the Hip have continued to do throughout their three-decade-long career.

Canadian music has become synonymous with The Tragically Hip. In addition to their music being adored across the country, each of their 14 studio albums is laced with lyrics that pay homage to Canada. Whether it is the legends surrounding painter Tom Thomson or "that night in Toronto," The Tragically Hip are ingrained in our history as much as the events, people and places Gord sings about.

Not only have they opened the doors for many Canadian musicians and fans, they have also widened our appreciation for the often-overlooked aspects of everyday life. From dipping your feet in the water at the edge of a lake to looking up into the vast night sky, The Tragically Hip has connected Canadians to nature, our history and to each other.

"All Canadian Surf Club," The Tragically Hip (1987)

The release of The Tragically Hip's self-titled album cemented their place as the quintessential Canadian band. This song in particular, draws reference to the Regent Theatre, which has been speculated to be the small theatre in Picton, Ontario. Gord also refers to rolling waves and how they relate to human movement and passion. This act of tying nature to human connection and emotion is something the Hip have continued to do throughout their three-decade-long career.

"Three Pistols," Road Apples (1991)

One of my favourite Hip songs is, coincidentally, about one of my favourite Canadian painters, Tom Thomson. An avid outdoorsman, Thomson was known as a pioneer of the impressionistic revolution in Canada. He painted renowned landscapes of places such as Algonquin, where he had a cabin. The song touches upon the elusive life of the painter, from his alleged relationship with Winnie Trainor to his death at Canoe Lake. The line, "I'm pretty sure it was him," comes from the stories of visitors spotting his ghostly figure on the water to this day.

Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip (Photo by Sarah Naegels/Wikimedia Commons)

"Bobcaygeon," Phantom Power (1998)

One of the band's most popular songs is coincidentally the one with the most blatant Canadian connections. Name-dropping Ontario's capital of Toronto, the song invokes the starry skies of Bobcaygeon and the world that surrounds us.

"Lake Fever," Music @ Work (2000)

The Tragically Hip draw inspiration from nature and this song is no exception. "Lake Fever" explores human connection and how, like a lake, it flows through and past us. Here, Downie also draws inspiration from the night sky of Ontario's Algonquin Park.

"Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park," In Between Evolution (2004)

In this song, Downie uses nature as a metaphor for human behaviour. Gus the polar bear is both animal and human. There are many different interpretations of this song, but I choose to believe it symbolizes the relationship between humans and nature and the similarities between the two.

"In Sarnia," Man Machine Poem (2016)

The Hip comes full circle with the track "In Sarnia," from their latest release, Man Machine Poem. In his classic poet nature, Downie takes his surroundings and crafts them into a love story between him and the midsized Ontario city. As with "Bobcaygeon," The Hip tends to take you to the heart of places in Canada, almost throwing you into the streets to walk among the locals.

When I heard the news about Gord's terminal brain cancer, the first thing I did was call my dad. I couldn't get through immediately because the first thing he thought to do when he heard the news was call me. Once I finally got through, our conversation was quick and filled with grieving silence. Here is someone who was so precious to my dad and to me, decades his junior, but age paid no significance in our sadness. Sadly, the news of Gord's illness has moved like a dark wave across the country.

Shortly after news hit of Gord Downie's cancer, The Hip announced their final cross-country tour. The last show will be held in the band's hometown of Kingston, Ontario on August 20 and live-broadcast on CBC. Canadians all across the country will be clenching their chests while singing along to their favourite songs alongside Gord and the band, myself included.

Perhaps my dad will be able to reprise his rendition of "Poets," one last time.

Written by Raechel Bonomo, communications assistant with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. This post originally appeared on Land Lines.

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Tragically Hip "Man Machine Poem" Tour
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