It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Gordon Downie – My Canadian Hero


It’s Monday and I’m happy to be participating in a weekly event with a community of bloggers who post reviews of books that they have read the previous week. Check out more IMWAYR posts here: Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers

Secret Path

Secret Path – Gordon Downie

Gordon Downie, iconic front man for the Tragically Hip and who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, will release his first book called Secret Path this coming Tuesday, October 18th. (Downie’s new album, Secret Path, will be released on the same day).   Secret Path is a graphic novel Downie wrote to honor and shed light on the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ont.  Chanie died beside railroad tracks after escaping from the school and trying to walk to his home more than 600 kilometres away.  Downie learned of Chanie’s story, who was misnamed Charlie by his teachers, from a 1967 Maclean’s magazine article.  “I never knew Chanie, but I will always love him,” Downie said in an interview. “Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were.”   A documentary film about Downie’s heartfelt project and visit to Chanie Wenjack’s family in Marten Falls will air on CBC on Oct. 23.   My TV is set.

For those of you who watched the Tragically Hip’s bittersweet farewell concert this summer,  in the midst of all the hit songs, you may remember Downie’s plea and comments to our prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau was in the crowd watching the concert and Downie spoke directly to him about Canada’s “dark past” and about trying to help fix the problems in Northern Canada.  “It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. (But) we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.”   At the time, I was not sure what he was talking about, but I was curious.  What I have since learned was that Downie was referring to the dark chapter in Canada’s history when more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were placed in government-funded residential schools.

I know that I often make the comment “This is a MUST HAVE book!” in my blog posts. But this is a book we truly all need to buy and share with our students because Chanie Wenjack’s story needs to be told.  Students will connect to him, ache for him and learn from him. Proceeds from this book and album will go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the residential school system.

Is Gordon Downie ”qualified” to write this story even though he is not of aboriginal descent?  I believe he is.  His deep compassion for Chanie Wenjack, for his family and community qualifies him.  His extraordinary gift of words and powerful poetic voice qualifies him.  His strong desire to raise awareness of this critically important issue that he describes as “not an aboriginal problem; this is a Canadian problem” qualifies him.  His generosity, care, and deep humility, even in the face of his own death qualifies him. Gordon Downie has gifted us with a legacy of indelible music and lyrics and now has gifted us with this powerful story of Chanie Wenjack.  Gordon Downie is my Canadian hero.

Read more about Downie’s project here. Watch the official book trailer for Secret Path here.

Other new books on Truth and Reconciliation:

Wenjack – Joseph Boyden

Coincidentally, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author Joseph Boyden’s (Three Day Road, The Orenda) new short MG novel (112 pages) tells the same story of  Chanie Wenjack – his escape from a residential school and his long walk home through the forests of Northern Canada.  This book focuses on the spirits of the forest who accompany him on his journey, sometimes to torment but ultimately to bring him comfort.  Beautiful illustrations by Ken Monkman.  This would be a great companion to Secret Path.

I am Not a Number – Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

“Back home, long hair was a source of pride. We cut it when we lost a loved one. Now it felt as if a part of me was dying with every strand that fell.”
It’s not always easy to broach this subject with younger students but this book, based on the author’s grandmother’s experience in residential school, is written in straightforward, simple language that will help younger children understand what happened.  It is a powerful, heartbreaking and important story to share and to have in your school library.

Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools – Melanie Florence

This Nonfiction book is dense with text and information, but would be an excellent resource for teachers who were studying this period in history with their class.   I like that it includes historical photographs, documents, and first-person narratives from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people who survived residential schools.  I would use it to read short passages for read aloud/think aloud lessons.  Great for practicing questioning.  (Please note: there is some criticism of this book having some inaccurate information about rituals that are described as being in “the past” but which, in fact, are still part of present-day aboriginal culture.  Also for the misspelling the word Métis (spelled with no accent and Me-tis).

Thanks for stopping by.  Please leave your thoughts in a quick reply!


Filed under New Books, Redsigned BC curriculum, residential school, Truth and reconciliation

10 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Gordon Downie – My Canadian Hero

  1. Carson

    Middle of last week I sent these three books to our Ab Ed Coordinator and librarian saying that they needed to be in our school asap. I look forward to sharing them with my SS 9 kids. Unique and great to compare the graphic novel to Boyden’s work. Gord’s album will be another companion. All accessible to kids by the looks of it.

    • Yes, I think comparing both books about the this boy would be a wonderful lesson. The album started out as 12 poems Downie wrote, then decided to put music to them. It would be amazing to share some of the song lyrics with students too. Looks like you have a few lessons for your SS classes!

  2. I cannot wait to read this. I recently attended an author visit as part of Word Vancouver featuring an Aboriginal author who spoke about her own family’s experiences as residential school survivors – it’s a subject I knew little about growing up, and I still have so much to learn.

    And I’ve just realize we’re not only fellow Canadians, but fellow Vancouverites, which is pretty fantastic.

    • What a small world! I also feel that residential schools was a topic never discussed in school when I was growing up. It is important that we share this part of our history with students and books are the best way to do that! Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

  3. Have not heard of any of this (including the rock band!) in the US. Very interesting. I’ve read some Orca books with indigenous characters, and things are slightly different in Canada, but the stories are still important. I’ll see if I can hunt the books down.

    • This band is one of the most iconic Canadian Bands and the country was devastated when we learned that the lead singer has terminal brain cancer. They did a cross country “farewell” tour this summer, ending with a televised concert from their hometown. Lots of joy and lots of tears as the whole country watched, sang and said good-bye. How courageous that in his final days, he continues to be giving back in this way.

  4. I am Not a Number sounds very intriguing. I feel like kids nowadays could be writing this book in regards to the data we use….

    • Love your connection to the title! The story, however, is not about testing but about stripping children of their cultural identity – a terrible part of Canada’s past that we are only now acknowledging and talking about. This book will help us share the story.

  5. Amazing books, Adrienne – I need books that represent diversity in my classroom, and these are special.

    • Thanks, Tara. I think your Grade 6’s would get a lot out of these stories. They are certainly an important part of our country’s history, but they have been kept “hidden” up until the last few years. I believe the discussions and questions that come up from these books would be rich and thoughtful. Thanks for stopping by. I just read your post about Moo – I so enjoyed the Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog – so looking forward to reading this one! Have a great week.

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