Monthly Archives

August 2016


How We Celebrated the Tragically Hip

This past week a whole reservoir of love flew from Canadian pens and keyboards towards Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. The man, machine, poem and his band have made us cry and reminisce as they toured one last time in the wake of Downie’s incurable glioblastoma — terminal brain cancer.

My two favourite things I read about Gord and The Hip were Stephen Marche’s piece in The New Yorker and my friend Shannon’s open letter in The Overcast, Newfoundland’s Alternative Newspaper.

The Hip finished their tour last night in Kingston, Ontario, the band’s hometown. CBC live streamed the whole thing.

Project setup lit on the side of a house by four shower curtains.

Project setup lit on the side of a house by four shower curtains.

Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, a Canadian treasure

For any non-Canadian readers: Gord Downie is an amazing performer and all-around badass who never held anything back on stage, who made you feel like being Canadian was cool, powerful and poetic. Whose lyrics could be mumbled by drunks and intellectuals alike and shone a light on all the idiosyncrasies and secrets that make up this big land north of the 49th parallel.

Gord is a founding member of The Tragically Hip. They started playing in 1984 and he has always been their lead vocalist and lyricist. Just read through some of the lyrics from his 2001 solo album, Coke Machine Glow and you can see that the man really was a poem.

As a young liberal arts student, The Tragically Hip’s songs were a part of the musical wallpaper of my high school and university years. It was on the radio as you drove from Lennoxville to Montréal. New Orleans is Sinking was playing in a Halifax bar before your friend’s band got up to play. You woke up hungover and put on The Hip while you made pancakes.

The Hip’s records were like a friend you could trust. Whether recovering from a broken heart, a broken family or a broken world, you could always put on The Hip’s records as a safe place.

American bands and albums are nice, but Gord made a narrative path for a generation of Canadians to tread on, with our own problems and possibilities.

The Setup

I just wanted to share how we celebrated The Hip’s final concert, like many other Canadian across the country, with a bunch of friends and a backyard projector.

Projector machine glow.

Projector machine glow.

Weeks before we had made plans to all gather in the backyard of our friends’ house.

The day before our friend Gab had gone around to all her neighbours’ houses in the North End of Halifax with cookies and simultaneously invited them to the concert while pre-apologizing that it was going to be loud.

Gab and Ryan, friends and backyard owners. ♥︎ (Mel Hattie)

Gab and Ryan, friends and backyard owners. ♥︎ (Mel Hattie)

Yesterday morning, Rob and I drove out to Burnside to rent a ridiculous six thousand dollar projector that used to belong to The Trailer Park Boys. We then hit up Long & McQuade in Dartmouth to rent a pair of Yorkville speakers.

As we were loading them into the back of the van, an employee idly kicked an empty space along their rental wall and said they should consider sweeping the space since it’s never clear — everyone in the city was renting gear to stream The Hip’s concert and had cleaned them out.

In the backyard, we glued four white shower curtains together to make a twelve-foot square screen. We stapled the glued curtains to two 2″x4″ beams to hold the top and bottom of the screen straight.

Using some ‘industrial strength’ twine from the dollar store we lashed the screen to the side of the house out of the second floor bedroom and bathroom windows. There were cables coming out the windows, out from the basement. A computer might have fried because there was no grounding.

Production friends are the best friends to have. <3

Production friends are the best friends to have. <3

The concert started at 9:30pm Atlantic and friends and neighbours arrived, bringing air mattresses, lawn chairs, chips and beer. There was a keg.

Gab is a talented designer and made these awesome candy shish kabobs. Another friend, Allie, brought a legendary spicy cheese dip, the recipe for which she rescued from a restaurant chain she used to work at before it closed down.

People make things happen

When people come together, whether it’s to build a rocket ship or have a backyard concert, awesome things happen.

Neighbourhood turnout.

Neighbourhood turnout.

We the north.

We the north.

So I love that I was together with friends, celebrating The Hip. I love that the set list was 30 songs long and included three encores. I love that they played ‘Bobcagyeon’, ‘New Orleans is Sinking’, ‘Wheat Kings’, ‘Grace, Too’, ‘Ahead by a Century’, ‘Tired as Fuck’ and so many others. It makes me happy that #InGordWeTrust is a thing.

This morning I woke up to a Tragically Hip Spotify playlist. I love these photos I took last night even though it was so dark and they’re so grainy and objectively not good at all.

Flash forward

I love that Downie used the national stage last night to bring attention to first nations communities up north.

“Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go… It’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there, but it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”

“A promise to this country. I mean the Prime Minister… We’re in good hands folks. Real good hands. He cares about the people up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore. Trained our entire lives to not hear a word of what’s going on up there. But what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe even worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not on the improve and we’re gonna get it fixed. But we’ve got the guy to do it. To start. To help.”

Flash back

Almost five years ago now, on October 21, 2010, Downie came to Bishop’s University with his other band, The Country of Miracles. They put on an amazing show that was attended by maybe a hundred people.

Gord Downie waves to the crowd at Centennial Theatre, October 2010. (Mel Hattie)

Gord Downie waves to the crowd at Centennial Theatre, October 2010. (Mel Hattie)

I was just starting my third year of university and shooting at the concert so I could write an article for the university newspaper. Gord let me get up close and made me feel like a real concert photographer even though I was a self-taught kid who barely knew how to use a camera.

The theatre had just flooded a week before and it was a miracle the show was able to go on at all. The river had risen 7.3 metres and 900 people left during evacuation.

The piece I wrote has long-since been swallowed by The Campus archives, but I’ll always have the photos and the memory.

Gord sharing a moment with a fan in the crowd.

Gord sharing a moment with a fan in the crowd.

Thanks for everything, Gord. You were the coolest guy. Ahead by a century. You helped a whole country figure itself out.

Personal Essays

Saying Goodbye With Lanterns in Labrador

Friends and family light lanterns for Jeffrey Loder from Goose Bay Labrador

There are a pantheon of dark and horrible things in life that you hope you never have to deal with.  Suicide is one of them.

Last week, my partner Rob and I flew to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador for the funeral of his young cousin, Jeffrey Loder.  The Thursday morning before, Jeff shot and killed himself.

Suicide is hard to talk about.  It’s an ugly, dark dog.  It’s too permanent.  There are no solutions.  No more possibilities.  No take-backsies.  There is nothing to put back together because the pieces are gone.  Life is not the same.

Yellow lanterns for Jeffrey Loder float in the sky in Labrador.

Yellow lanterns for Jeff float up to the sky. (Mel Hattie)

On the edge of the map

Labrador is in Canada’s north and is very isolated.  Not many people know much about it, so I’m just going to quickly introduce you.

Labrador is known as “the Big Land”, and it is.  There are few people and endless skies.  You can see the northern lights here.   You can also see icebergs and whales.  The climate can be  sub-artic or humid continental.

If you spread everyone who lives there out evenly, you could walk about 11 square kilometres before ever running into another person.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay is one of two large towns in Labrador.  There are about 7,500 people there, and despite the vast landscape, people are close.  Everyone knows each other.  Everyone talks about each other.

In these beautiful but isolated communities,  suicide is often endemic.

When you fly over southern Labrador, it looks kind of like someone took a mountain range and sliced off all the tops — bare, harsh rock and sandy earth stare up at you. There is a sparse covering of spindly trees and thick blue veins of rivers and lakes pulse through. Basin cliffs stick up unapologetically.

30 kilometres north of Goose Bay there’s an Innu first nations community of about 1,300 people called Sheshatshiu. Even further north lies the remote and mountainous Torngat Mountains National Park.

If you challenge nature here, you will lose.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the kind of place where Friday nights mean driving around with friends, getting into alcohol or drugs, getting into trouble. Maybe speeding through one of the town’s two sets of traffic lights. You might go to the one movie theatre in town. There’s no recreation centre. There’s no gym.

The kind of place where you don’t buckle your seat belt because, “What are you going to hit out here?” and a good house party can grow to be the thing of legend (Rob once threw a jello-wrestling party in his parent’s basement in 2006 and, much to his dismay, it gets brought up every time we go back).

The last permanent psychiatrist in Goose Bay left last year.

A heart-shaped red balloon floats in the sky for Jeffrey Loder of Labrador

A heart-shaped red balloon floats in the sky for Jeffrey Loder of Labrador. (Mel Hattie)

So there we were

We landed at the airport around 7pm. Rob’s parents picked us up. We headed straight to Fillatre’s — the only funeral home in town. It’s the second time I’ve been there.

Standing outside Fillatre’s, I see a quick succession of half-ton trucks whip by — all pulling fancy skidoos or boats. The Muskrat Falls development has brought a lot of money into a community where there’s really not much else to spend it on. Homes, trucks, skidoos, booze, repeat.

As we head into the funeral home, I see a small, stark sign tacked to the door frame above the viewing room. It’s one of those black changeable boards with white letters, like what you’d use to identify a class for an old school photo.


On Thursday morning we went to the funeral home for a private family service to say goodbye to Jeff, then we ate a quick lunch and drove down to join friends and community members for Jeff’s public funeral. His softball team formed the honour guard, their bright orange jerseys lighting the corridor for Jeff’s casket to pass through.

It was hard to tell exactly how many people were in the huge room, but I heard the number 450 thrown around a few times. People were laughing and crying, singing and holding each other.

Like boats at sea, all week people were fighting to stay afloat as they were hit with wave after wave of emotion. Sometimes it’s nice to just let the wave come.


There were pins and stickers made with Jeff’s picture on them. All his friends and family wore them, showing their solidarity. (Mel Hattie)

Jeff’s family chose the Salvation Army to do the funeral, and the pastors Brent and Melissa Haas led the community through honouring his memory, while inviting people up to share stories about the good times, and consider our choices in life while also acknowledging the issue of youth suicide in Labrador.

At one point, Brent even pulled out and performed part of the service wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey — Jeff’s favourite team.

Releasing the lanterns

After the funeral, friends and family gathered at the place known as ‘the causeway’, where the Trans-Labrador highway crosses the Churchill River just outside of town.


Jeff’s friends started arriving in a clearing at the edge of the river, just down from the highway. They skipped rocks, waiting for everyone to arrive.

Trucks, SUVs and Jeeps started pulling in around dusk, finding space on the gravel beside the highway that headed up to the Muskrat Falls work camps.

Jeff’s friends gathered at the river’s edge with his sister, Jodi, and on the highway above with Jeff’s mother, Rob’s Aunt Pat.

One of Aunt Pat’s best friends, Michelle, organized the handing out of lanterns. Michelle lost her own son, Clay, last year in a dirt biking accident. Clay was Jeff’s best friend.

As everyone was writing messages to Jeff on their lanterns, Michelle said, “Now. I know today at the funeral we already said goodbye to Jeff’s body. Now I want you to release his soul… When you light these balloons and send them off, I want you to think of a good memory you had with Jeff.”

Beers and torches came out of trucks and then slowly — big paper lanterns wearing messages of love and memories written in sharpie started to drift up and over the water, lighting a path in the dusk. The lanterns formed a warm glow of aching hearts, drifting south.

There’s something magic about sending messages up to the clouds. People smiled with wonder and delight as the flotilla of lanterns flew high and warmed the sky. They remembered Jeff. Through memory, each bit of tissue paper and fire transformed into a shrine for the boy who died too soon.

Death is still death. Hard is still hard. Despite the long road ahead, as the lanterns floated over the river I think I felt at least some of the darkness being lifted. Even if just a little.

On Jodi’s arm there’s a tattoo in cursive writing. It’s a short proverb that reads, “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.”

Rest in peace, Jeffrey Loder.

Lantern for Jeff Loder floats over the Churchill River in Goose Bay Labrador

During the funeral, Jeff’s family — Aunt Pat, Uncle Colin, Jodi and others — collected donations to be used to fund a crisis centre at the Labrador Friendship Centre.  If you’d like to make a donation, please contact the friendship centre. You can also find them on Facebook.

Here’s a list of suicide crisis centres across Canada. Labrador does not have one, but you can call any of them from wherever you are. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is feeling depressed, please talk to someone.

Jeff was an organ donor and his heart, liver and lungs were able to go on to help other people. Here’s how you can register to be an organ donor.