BOBCAYGEON, Ont. — When Dave Bailey first heard last year that Gord Downie had terminal brain cancer, he knew he needed to head to Bobcaygeon, Ont., after the Tragically Hip frontman died.
The Pickering, Ont., native wasn’t sure if anyone would be gathered, but he figured he would head straight to the source of one of band’s hit singles.
“I thought, ‘What can I do?”’ Bailey said. “I could donate to cancer society, and I have, but I got to do something to memorialize him so I figured drive to Bobcaygeon and watch the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time.”
Downie, the Hip’s lead singer, died Tuesday at age 53.
The song “Bobcaygeon” is from the Hip’s 1998 album “Phantom Power” and earned a Juno Award for best single in 2000.
Bailey was one of around 50 people who gathered near the water Wednesday night in the town in eastern Ontario’s cottage country to commemorate Downie.
Candles were placed on the ground and illuminated local musician Richard Kyle, who strummed along to famous Hip songs “Wheat Kings,” “Ahead by a Century,” and of course, “Bobcaygeon,” on his black acoustic guitar.
Kyle planned on playing a few Hip songs in dedication to Downie regardless of whether anyone would show up.
“I’ve been a fan of the band since ’89, when I really started getting into them,” Kyle said. “I’ve met everybody in the band a bunch of times. They’re a big influence musically and how you should treat people and how you should relate to other people and get along.”
Residents of Bobcaygeon remembered Downie for putting them on the map by writing the hit song about their town.
“He’s mythologised our town in a way that is incomparable,” local business owner Sacha Douglas said. “We feel a great connection to him, always have.
“There’s not a whole lot of towns in Canada of this size that you can ask anybody in Canada, ‘Have you heard of Bobcaygeon?’ And everyone will have heard of it. It’s quite remarkable, actually.”
The community, which has a population of just over 3,500, hosted a viewing party in August 2016 for the Hip’s final stop of the “Man Machine Poem” tour. Bobcaygeon shut down its main street and residents set up lawn chairs and sat on rooftops to watch the Kingston, Ont., show on three jumbo screens set up throughout the community’s main stretch.
Over 6,000 people brought out their cameras or cell phones to sing along with Downie as the band started to play “Bobcaygeon.”
Kawartha Lakes city councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan says she was shocked at the amount of people that showed up for the viewing.
“I think it brought the town together,” Seymour-Fagan said. “It’s always been quite a strong community but when that song is being played, you can feel a sense of pride and hear a sense of pride. People come in from other areas and want to come to Bobcaygeon because it has been encapsulated by The Tragically Hip as the Canadian cottage town.”
Added Taylor Poole: “It showed a town that really rallied behind their support of this band and this man who is a great Canadian. We were fortunate to have the tie of this man to our town. It feels special that way.”
The community used the opportunity to raise funds for brain cancer research, at the viewing with collection boxes and later through merchandise.
Douglas and her husband designed a shirt which they sold at their business that said “Courage” in red lettering and underneath “Thanks man, Bobcaygeon.” That design sold out on multiple occasions.
Another T-shirt design by the Poole family had “Bobcaygeon, Hip Town.”
The sales of shirts, hats and hoodies in 2016 raised $23,000, which was donated to Sunnybrook Hospital.
“He’s really impacted us and I think he’s a national hero,” Douglas said. “I think the example he’s set for the good that you can do is something that we should all strive to do and you can make a difference.”