Back in August, my live-in breakfast chef of 7 years and I said yes to getting married—to each other, no less. When he popped out of the bushes at my friend’s house almost 8 years ago and offered me a place to live (I was looking for a new apartment at the time, so it wasn’t that weird), who would have guessed that we’d be toasting ‘yes’ to marriage in a yurt some years later with all our best friends gathered.
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.
The Hip finished their tour last night in Kingston, Ontario, the band’s hometown. CBC live streamed the whole thing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Thanks for everything, Gord. You were the coolest guy. Ahead by a century. You helped a whole country figure itself out.
On this day we finally reach the ultimate stop of our westward journey across North America.
It was also the day I saw a sea lion poop. So it was remarkable, in many ways.
We woke up in Sayward, in the back of our van in our friend’s lawn. We were just in time to catch the dawn.
We had a four and a half hour drive from Sayward to Tofino and wanted to make the most of the day. Thus the early start.
We snuck into our host’s house to brush our teeth and quietly take some sandwiches out of the fridge we had prepared the night before for the road. Then, we were off.
The way from Sayward to Tofino happens to run through one of Vancouver Island’s most stunning natural features: Cathedral Grove.
It houses some of the oldest and tallest trees in Canada. The oldest are around 800 years old, but most sprung up about 300 years ago when a large fire opened up the area.
A short walk directly off the highway takes you around a quick loop of some of the oldest trees. You can do the quick loop in less than 20 minutes, but if you want there are longer walks.
When Rob touched the oldest Douglas Fir, the largest tree in the forest, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m having a serious religious experience right now.”
He was kind of joking, but kind of right. It was amazing breathing air being filtered by ancient trees and walking amongst this Jurassic-Park-esque foliage. Even the ferns were huge.
We returned to the car and discovered even though our radio fuse was still blown, (it blew up on our way to Sayward) somehow the alternator had come back on. This meant we could charge our phones and camera batteries again. Woo!
In response to this good discovery, Rob shouted, “The Tree! The Tree has blessed me!”
Rob also overcame his fear of spiders to hug the tree. It was crawling with them. This is a man who run from the room when there’s spider and makes me throw it outside. That’s a miracle in itself.
For the rest of the drive I mostly stretched out in the back (perks of having a mattress in the van).
Finally, we arrived.
Twenty-five days after leaving home we finally dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean.
I didn’t want to go home.
I imagined us rowing the van out into the ocean, paddling west and eventually we’d get to Japan and then keep going.
The next most sensible thing to do was to have a beer.
Luckily, the Tofino Brewing Co. was only five minutes away. Our decided favourite was the bull kelp stout (made with real bull kelp). Their sour was good too – almost like a cider.
The area around Tofino is a series of inlets. It’s known as a surfer’s paradise. It’s also a paradise for anyone who wants part-time work in the summer. Our friend Sandy Powell who is a wonderful writer and outdoor adventure wunderkind was living there and we were lucky enough to have him show us around the place.
The first place we headed (for another beer) was Jack’s waterfront pub. It is at this very locale that I glimpsed some of the beautiful inlets and islands that make up the Tofino coastline.
And, this beautiful creature:
Yes. That’s what it looks like when a sea lion poops. So majestic. I’m sorry if you were eating.
Said sea lion was hanging out around the wharf because there’s a gutting station position perfectly. All the lazy thing has to do is wait until the fisherman or tourists throw the fish offal down the disposal shoot where it ends up in the water. Occasionally the sea lion would receive a spray with the hose from the fisherman.
Tofino was 100% lovely. I can see why some people come back there to work summer after summer. Hearing the town gossip from Sandy was entertaining in itself. I won’t share it with you here though – that’s why YOU need to get to Tofino, so you can hear the stories firsthand. Hearing them secondhand through me (making you the third hand, in effect) just wouldn’t be the same. Rest assured though, as with many small towns there’s an entertaining tale or two (or ten) about the local colour. Ask about the drugs. Ask about the characters. Ask about all sorts of things.
Actually, do this no matter where you are. Do it in your own hometown. Keep throwing out lines to people and fishing. You’ll probably be surprised what you come up with.
For dinner we ate at what is possibly my favourite restaurant in Canada. Seriously. I spotted Kuma on Tofino’s main drag when we first pulled into town and KNEW that I would love it.
Are you kidding me? Can I get married here? The food was so good that I literally bought the t-shirt. It’s so good that I’m going to dedicate an entire post to it instead of going into detail here. Because I would get side-tracked. Forever. And then this post would be obscenely long (and it’s already pretty long).
Post-dinner at Kuma we went for a walk, grabbed some beers and then headed down to the dock to watch the sunset. Perfect. A glorious day. A glorious trip. Then it floated into my mind: “Oh, yeah. Now we have to drive all the way back…”
Nah, better not think about that just yet. Better just enjoy the sunset.
Day 25 Costs
- Tofino Brewing Company Swag: $84.00
- Tofino Brewing Company Flight of Beer and Growlito: $37.33
- Victory Dinner at Kuma: $70.00
- Souvenir T-Shirt at Kuma: $28.61
- Beer at Tough City Sushi: $12.94
Because hey, when you travel sometimes things don’t always work out like you planned.
When I arrived on Goose Bay on December 27, Rob picked me up at the airport and we headed over to his parents’ house where we celebrated a belated Christmas, including getting these tickets for a dog sled lesson and tour with Northern Lights Dog Sledding.
Rob’s mom had booked a date for me, Rob and his sister Melissa to go. They book up quick and she managed to get the last one available.
It was scheduled for January 2, the day before we flew back to Halifax.
A couple days before our booking we heard they had to cancel another group because of weather.
On the second, the weather looked perfect. There was a light sprinkling of new snow down and it was warmer than previous days.
We wrapped ourselves up in snow gear until we were layered like warm onions. Then we piled into the truck and drove to where the dogs were.
We got to the kennels about ten minutes early. The dogs were ecstatic. As soon as they saw people coming towards them they started barking and saying hi. We pulled up, parked the truck and I immediately (of course) ran over to the dogs to say hi and take their pictures.
[white_box]In order for you to understand my excitement it’s important that you know that Balto was one of my favourite childhood movies. It was based off the real life 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska. Balto led the dog sled team in the final lef of the run which is now commemorated in the yearly Iditarod Dog Sled Race.[/white_box]
A few minutes later Rob and his sister Melissa came over to me.
Rob: “Well I guess we better head back then.”
Melissa: “You didn’t hear him?”
In my sled dog ecstasy I totally missed that Northern Lights owner/musher Scott Hudson had pulled up in his truck after I ran off to take dog pictures and told Rob and Melissa that the dogsled was cancelled because his daughter had a nosebleed and he had to take her to the hospital.
Since Hudson took off pretty quickly, when we got back home we messaged him on Facebook to see if maybe we could re-book for later in the afternoon. We met him at 1pm originally and thought maybe by 4 or 5pm he’d be okay to take us out, but he got back to us fair quickly saying no such luck.
We got a refund for the tickets. There was no way to reschedule with us having to be at the airport at 8am the next morning.
No dogsled for us this time.
It was just one of those things. I was disappointed we didn’t get out, but happy I got to see a bunch of excited Labrador Huskies. It’s too bad there was no backup plan in place from the company. There was another couple who were supposed to travel with us as well (who were also flying back home the next day) so all five of us didn’t get our dogsled trip.
That being said, the next time we’re back in Labrador for Christmas we’ll absolutely give it another try. This time, our imagination had to suffice.
If you visit Goose Bay and make a booking, I suggest you give yourself a couple days of reschedule time, just in case.
On day 24 of our cross-Canada journey we awoke to warm sun on our faces and the nearby buzzing of chainsaws. We were in the village of Sayward on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, B.C.
You see the white cloud on top of the Mount H’Kusam? Local people affectionately call the cloud “Oscar”, but the First Nations used to call it “Hiyatsee Saklekum”. That means something akin to ‘where the sea lions’ breath gathers at the blow hole‘. The legend says that there’s a cave on the other side of the mountain that the cloud comes out of.
Some Cool Things About Sayward
Sayward is where Gordo’s parents live. He and his girlfriend Danielle are friends of ours from Halifax and have just returned from South Korea a few days ago, so we’re all staying together at their place. The entire population is about 400 people, so it’s a tiny place and nestled right in the wilderness of Vancouver Island.
Give that, it’s no wonder that they are known for…
Sayward has lots of sasquatch sightings! Never had our bumper sticker felt more relevant. We were going out to play in the river in the woods later, so it was important we understood to be on alert for bigfoot at all times.
Sayward’s main export is logging. Thus, the logging camp right across the street.
There’s this little, near-unsinkable tug boat that moves logs from one side of the inlet to the other. It’s easy to stand there watching as it bobs around, looking like a toy and coming so close to tipping over, but then jumping right back up, incredibly buoyant. A floating bumper car.
Sayward has rich fossil beds. Mostly sea creatures and plants.
The Kusam Klimb
Held annually in late June, this tough 23km race goes up and down Mt. H’Kusam. Gordo’s Dad did the Kusam Klimb last year. That’s because he’s tough as nails.
He’s also the owner of the awesome classic Grizzly truck you see behind him. This tough piece of automobile is also a piece of Canadian forestry history. Only 14 of these backwoods diesel trucks were ever built in Canada.
So now you know some cool things about Sayward. Go visit sometime!
Swimming in the River
The number one thing our friends had been looking forward to on returning from South Korea to Vancouver Island was the fresh air.
Filtered through the trees, cool from the mountains and fresh with sunlight, we couldn’t wait to get outside.
But first, breakfast and picnic packing.
Okay, now off to the wilderness.
We went swimming, picnicking and cloud staring at the Salmon River. It was clear as could be and, yes, full of salmon! We’d be swimming and then hear this splash like someone threw a rock. It was the salmon jumping around us.
Then we all went back to home base and made some supper together, including Vietnamese shish kabobs.
Remember this folks: Whether you’re at home or traveling, it is the people you surround yourself with that make all the difference. Relationships are the gold of life. They are the magic elixir.
Seriously, there was even a 75-year Harvard study done on it.
Wherever you travel next, be it across the street or across the planet, I hope you find people to laugh with.
Day 24 Costs:
- Coffee at Sayward Convenience: $8.20
- Groceries at Sayward Convenience: $7.46