KINGSTON, Ont. — On Saturday, the eastern Ontario city of Kingston was Hip-town.
Hordes of music fans gathered in the hometown of the Tragically Hip for the final stop of their "Man Machine Poem'' tour. They came expecting an emotional farewell, given that lead singer Gord Downie revealed earlier this year that he's battling terminal brain cancer.
If this was to be goodbye, Kingstonians wanted to make sure their send-off wouldn't be forgotten.
Reminders of the prolific Canadian band were found throughout the city's downtown. Local restaurants wiped away daily specials on their sandwich boards to give nods to the Hip's fans.
A man walks by a the Tragically Hip poster in front of the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ont., on Friday 19, 2016. (Photo: CP)
Even the public transit system pulled out all the stops with a "Welcome Home, Hip'' message that flashed across the bus route sign. Rides were free to help ease the onslaught of visitor traffic.
Locals couldn't stop talking about the Hip either.
"It's the hometown people that keep them going,'' said local native Chris Harris.
Early in the afternoon he was passing around a marker so visitors could write notes to the Hip on a wall outside the city's market square. By midday, the wall was filled and city organizers scrambled to bring in more paper to accommodate all the messages.
"The Tragically Hip has been the soundtrack to the best years of my life,'' read a note signed by Natalie from Prince Edward Island.
"You guys were my first concert,'' another one signed "M+E'' said. "Honored to be here for your last.''
Sam Mackey, who travelled about 300 kilometres from Oakville, Ont., to see the show, grew up on the sounds of the Hip. She planned to mark the occasion by tattooing lyrics from the song "Grace, Too'' on her shoulder.
"You guys were my first concert. Honoured to be here for your last."
"Armed with will and determination and grace, too,'' she said it would read.
"That just summarizes me,'' Mackey added. "I'm a very strong type of person, but I have a little bit of grace in there.''
Tens of thousands of fans — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among them — were expected to be in Kingston for the concert.
Jeremy Kizina sports a "In Gord We Trust " hat in downtown Kingston, Ont., on Saturday, August 20, 2016. (Photo: CP)
Along with the fans lucky enough to get tickets for the show at the 6,700-seat Rogers K-Rock Centre, many more gathered a few blocks away at Springer Market Square, an outdoor space next to city hall that streamed the show on a giant screen.
Darcy Foo, a student at the nearby Royal Military College, was one of the first to arrive at the square. He showed up with two friends around 10:30 a.m. in the hopes of getting a front-row view of the screen. It turns out they were among the first to show up.
"By the sounds of it, this is where the real party is going to be,'' he said.
Justin Trudeau hugs Gord Downie ahead of 'The Tragically Hip's' concert in Kingston, Ont. (Photo: Facebook/The Tragically Hip)
He talked with his friends about how Kingston lore is filled with stories about the Hip. Some of the band's members still have homes there, which means that every once in a while there's a close encounter.
Rumour has it guitarist Rob Baker recently swung by a neighbour's backyard gathering for beers.
Michael Molyneaux crossed paths with bassist Gord Sinclair at a friend's graduation party, but didn't recognize him until after their conversation was over.
"He told me he was in a band,'' Molyneaux said. "I figured it was a crappy little bar band or something.''
He's still kicking himself for not figuring it out earlier.
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