Secret Path tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who died trying to escape from a residential school. ARTWORK BY JEFF LEMIRE

Celebrated storyteller Mike Downie brings Secret Path to Port Alberni

Presentation takes place at Alberni District Secondary School on Oct. 25

Award-winning filmmaker and storyteller Mike Downie will host a presentation about the creation of The Secret Path during a special event in Port Alberni on Oct. 25.

The Secret Path is a multi-media project that tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, an Ojibway boy who died while running away from his residential school in the 1960s. The project began as a series of 10 poems written by Mike’s brother, Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip frontman who died of brain cancer in October 2017. With help from Mike, The Secret Path was transformed into a multimedia art project, including a music album, graphic novel and television film, which won Best Social or Political Documentary Program at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2018.

READ MORE: Gord Downie, fighting cancer, to walk audience down ‘Secret Path’ of indigenous pain

The film, featuring illustrations from Jeff Lemire, is divided into 10 chapters, creating a powerful visual representation of Wenjack’s escape from the Cecilia Jeffery Residential School in Ontario and his subsequent death from hunger and exposure. The film is set to Gord Downie’s musical retelling of Wenjack’s story.

School District 70 trustees had a chance to hear a presentation from Mike Downie during a provincial AGM in 2018, and immediately wanted to bring Downie to the Alberni Valley.

“We were very impressed by how he told the story of creating The Secret Path,” explained SD70 board chair Pam Craig. “We wanted to bring it to SD70 for students to experience that presentation.”

Downie will be making three separate presentations to students at Alberni District Secondary School and Ucluelet Secondary School, followed by a presentation open to the public on the evening of Oct. 25.

“We want to make sure that our youth get to know the real stories and the difficulties that these children went through in residential school,” Craig said. “And why we need to keep working on reconciliation with our Indigenous People of Canada.”

The presentation has been called “The Path to Reconciliation,” Craig says, because it’s just “one small part” in a long road to reconciliation.

During Downie’s presentation, he shares some of the music and images from The Secret Path and explains how the concept came about. He also talks about how he and Gord became close to the Wenjack family through the process of creating The Secret Path.

“He always talks about the power behind storytelling,” Craig added. “It’s a real story about a real young man. I’m hoping this will encourage people to keep learning and reading the real stories.”

Sponsors for the presentation include SD70, the Alberni Valley District Teachers Union, District Parent Advisory Council, Huu-ay-aht First Nations, INEO Employment Services and RE/MAX Mid-Island Realty.

The public presentation will take place at the Alberni District Secondary School Theatre on Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available by donation (with a suggested donation of $10) at the ADSS office or at the School Board Office (4650 Roger Street). They will also be available at the door, but Craig recommends picking up tickets ahead of time because seats are limited.

“I would love to fill that theatre,” said Craig. “I think it would be powerful for Mike to see that.”

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