The Hockey World Mourns Gord Downie – My Tribute and His Significance to Hockey

While it is far from their most famous tune, the song “Fifty Mission Cap” holds a special place in the hearts of hockey fans throughout Canada and in particular, Leafs fans.

While Canada has had many talented bands and performers grace the worlds stages, few have sang about our national pass time, hockey. The Tragically Hip did just that. The members of the band grew up in Kingston, Ontario. They were huge fans of the game. They grew up playing hockey and collecting cards as children. This fact made headlines when the song “Fifty Mission Cap” from the album Filly Completely was released in January 1993.

The iconic lyrics from the song went:

“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer,
He was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn't win another until 1962,
The year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card”

This song, tells the story of Bill Barilko, and his Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime which clinched the leafs their 7th cup in 1951. In the offseason, Barilko went on a fishing with a friend/pilot Henry Hudson. The flight took them to James Bay via a small Fairchild 24, single engine plane. On the return trip, the plane vanished. Despite a massive search effort, no sign of Barilko, Hudson or the plane was found. The team was of course devastated and truly unwilling to accept that Barilko was gone forever. Legend has it that Barilko’s equipment was even left in his regular locker room stall at the beginning of the 1952 training camp in hopes that he might return.

As the story and lyrics go, the leafs didn’t win another cup until 1962, coincidently the same year the wreckage of the Fairchild aircraft Barilko was flying in was discovered 11 years after his disappearance.

Spring forward to the release of “Fifty Mission Cap” in 1993. Hall of fame coach, Pat Burns was in his prime behind the bench of the Maple Leafs. A little known fact about Burns is that he was a guitar hobbyist, lover of music, & fan of The Tragically Hip. Burns quickly started using “Fifty Mission Cap” as a warm up song for the team, which is still played at the Air Canada Centre to this day.

During their last show at the ACC, when The Hip played “Fifty Mission Cap”, arena spotlights shined brightly on Barliko’s banner which hung in the rafters, as a tribute to both the player and the band.

The Tragically Hip has been and always will be my favourite band. To me, they embodied true originality coupled with amazing poetry, musical talent, & Canadian fibre.

I always knew The Hip had fans from coast to coast but I never truly realized just how huge they were until their very last show. During the Brazil Summer Olympics none the less, the CBC cut coverage of the games to broadcast the last Hip show live from Kingston, uninterrupted, to all Canadians. In essence, for a couple of hours that night, the country shut down, tuned in, reminisced & celebrated what will undoubtedly go down as the greatest Canadian act of all time.

Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, showed up for that concert, not because he should, not because he was the Prime Minister, but because he was a fan.

Well I am a fan too and here’s my story.

When I was in grade three, my parents bought me a guitar because I wanted to learn to play. Well I learned some chords and a couple of old folk songs like "Blowing in the wind". I didn't know anything about music at that time, as my exposure was limited to songs we sang in music class, church music on Sunday mornings, and AM radio when I was in the car with my parents. I quickly lost interest in the guitar and put it in my closet. Years later, my older Sister brought home several albums by The Tragically Hip and I was instantly and completely enthralled. I would borrow the albums whenever possible and listen to them front to back. This was the music I was looking for in my life.

From here I picked up the guitar again, one of the first rock songs I ever strummed was "Wheat Kings" by The Tragically Hip.

Not only did The Hip get me into the guitar and shape my musical taste, I feel the music had a part in shaping me as a person. As corny as that sounds, I do believe it to be true.

When my first son was born, there were nights when he wouldn't settle for his mother and would only settle when I would rocked him in his chair and sing to him. More often then not, Patrick would catch a few bars of "Blow at High Dough", "Fiddlers Green", or "Grace too" right before drifting off to sleep. I play the Hip regularly for my boys still and they seem to enjoy it as much as I do.

This is the kind of impact I believe the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie has had on millions of Canadians in one way or another.

While Gord is gone, his personal legacy, work with the first nations people, ties to hockey and definition of what it means to be Canadian will be a thing of Canadian folk lore and should be celebrated regularly. I only hope someone out there has the sense to make Oct 18th, "Gord's Day".

Since word of Gord’s passing spread this morning, rumours of the Maple Leafs honouring his life with a moment of silence before tonight’s game have spread. One final send off for one of the greatest Canadians of all time.

RIP Gordie

"Forever in our hearts and Playlist" - Justin Trudeau

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