Gord Downie's Daughter Shares His Empowering Creative Advice

"He lived to create, and he created, in pursuit of a loving, full life"

Photo: Kim Jay

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Oct 17, 2023

Today marks six years since the passing of Tragically Hip frontman and songwriter Gord Downie, and in his memory, the artist's daughter Willo Downie has shared reflections on their relationship and the life of creativity he inspired her to pursue.

In an essay for Billboard Canada, Willo — an emerging visual artist who co-created the pastel work covering Downie's 2020 album Away Is Mine with sibling Clare — writes of how proud she feels to have "been raised by a man who embodied, fully, what it meant to create one's own life as though it were a work of art."

Willo recalls how in ninth grade, for her home province's annual Take Your Kid to Work day, Downie brought her to the Art Gallery of Ontario as opposed to the Hip's Bathouse recording studio just outside of Kingston.

"I try to retrieve the reasoning behind that choice of his sometimes," she writes, concluding, "I think he was trying to relay the message that his 'career' was so much more to him than just one discipline, one art form. It was a way of life — the choice to move through the world in pursuit of beauty and truth. He was setting that example for me, too."

She also shares a memory of a conversation that affirmed her own pursuit of a creative life:

Fast forward a few years, and I can remember a specific conversation with my dad. I was choosing what to do after high school.

"Willo, what makes you happy?"

"A lot of things, dad…"

"What can't you live without?"

"I need to paint"

"Then do that"

Then the doubt set in, and he responded, "Willo, choose, and you'll make a way."

"His choice to say 'you'll make a way' could very well have been 'you'll find a way' or, 'the way will make itself known to you,'" Willo writes. "But he had chosen to try to empower me instead, to create the life and career I so desperately wanted — needed — in order to feel complete."

Read Willo Downie's complete essay here.

Gord Downie passed away from brain cancer in October 2017. He was 53.

In November, the Tragically Hip will celebrate 25 years of Phantom Power with an expanded anniversary box set. Recently, the band's beloved hits compilation Yer Favourites made its vinyl debut.

This year has also seen a posthumous Downie album arrive in Lustre Parfait with Bob Rock, while Hip vocalist-guitarist Paul Langlois delivered Guess What with the Paul Langlois Band. 

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