Gord Downie began Secret Path as ten poems, incited by the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, fifty years ago, walking home to the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. Downie was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled “Charlie” by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story from February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”
The stories Downie’s poems tell were fleshed into the ten songs of Secret Path with producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin. Recording took place over two sessions at The Bathouse Recording Studios in Bath, Ontario, November and December 2013. The music features Downie on vocals and guitars, with Drew and Hamelin playing all other instruments. Guest musicians include Charles Spearin (bass), Ohad Benchetrit (lap steel/guitar), Kevin Hearn (piano), and Dave “Billy Ray” Koster (drums).
In winter 2014, Gord and Mike brought the recently finished Secret Path music to graphic novelist Jeff Lemire for his help illustrating Chanie Wenjack’s story, bringing him and the many children like him to life.
The ten song album will be released by Arts & Crafts accompanied by Lemire’s eighty-eight page graphic novel published by Simon & Schuster Canada. Secret Path will arrive on October 18, 2016, in a deluxe vinyl and book edition, and as a book with album download.
Downie’s music and Lemire’s illustrations have inspired The Secret Path, an animated film to be broadcast by CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 9pm (9:30 NT). The broadcast date marks the fiftieth anniversary of the morning Chanie’s body was found frozen beside the railroad tracks only twelve miles into his journey.
Proceeds from Secret Path will be donated to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at The University of Manitoba. The NCTR is dedicated to preserving the history of the residential schools in Canada, making this history known, and moving our country forward on the path of reconciliation.