Mike Downie, a documentary filmmaker, speaks about Secret Path—a multi-media project he and his late brother, Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip, put together before Gord’s death in 2016. Secret Path tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a First Nations boy who died trying to return home from residential school. SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News

Mike Downie keeps Charlie Wenjack’s story alive

Downie spreads Secret Path message to Alberni Valley schools

Mike Downie hopes the story of Chanie Wenjack, who died 50 years ago trying to return home from residential school in northern Ontario, will live on through the words of his late brother, Gord Downie, of The Tragically Hip.

The Downies worked on The Secret Path, a multi-media presentation featuring a graphic novel, 10-song album and animated film that tells Chanie’s story through Gord Downie’s words. The album was released just before Gord died of brain cancer on Oct. 17, 2017.

Mike Downie toured Vancouver Island for a week last month, visiting schools in two different districts and making multiple presentations. In Port Alberni he did three Secret Path presentations in front of a combined 1,100 students from Alberni District Secondary School, and Grade 7 students from Neill, Alberni, Dunn, John Paul II and Haa-huu-payak elementary schools.

“He was wonderful with the kids, taking time talking to them after the show and taking photos,” ADSS principal Rob Souther said.

“He’s a storyteller. There’s clearly the Downie family trait here; they (Mike and late brother Gord) can tell a mean story.”

Downie helped the students focus on the intangible concept of reconciliation, giving them a way to understand it on their level. “It wasn’t one of those guilt and blame kind of shows. It’s hopeful,” Souther said.

The reaction “is going to be different for every student,” he added. “It brings home something that maybe they didn’t understand that well. For me, what Secret Path was, was someone has an emotional connection with Gord and the Hip…it’s refocusing that dialogue in the mainstream.

“It did make it more real.”

Making it real is exactly what Mike Downie hopes to achieve with his Secret Path tour and Legacy Schools program of educators committed to reconciliation.

“When you start to think about it a little more you realize the resiliency of this culture. I hope it’s just going to get stronger. I believe it’s going to become a huge part of what Canadians think of who we are,” Downie said.

“I’m excited these kids are learning about the real history of Canada. My brother Gord was the kind of guy, he was never afraid of the tough conversations. He was a courageous kind of guy. This story of Canada is not very nice. It doesn’t show us in a flattering light, clearly.

“But that doesn’t mean we should turn away from it either. It’s the same thing for a nation as it is for an individual. You’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror, you’ve got to look at your faults and you’ve got to come to grips with it. If you don’t, there’s literally no chance of making any kind of progress whatsoever.”

Downie said students he has met through his school presentations have a greater awareness of what happened in the past, and says he is hopeful they will build on what they are learning. “It’s going to change this country,” he said. “It’s going to make it a better country.”

Educators from around Vancouver Island also had the opportunity to attend the public presentation of Secret Path on Friday, Oct. 25. Fifty-eight members of the Vancouver Island School Trustees Association (VISTA) were in Port Alberni for two days of workshops and activities, and they all listened to Downie’s presentation.

“I saw it three times and I cried three times,” ADSS vice-principal Jeannette Badovinac said.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter


‘My brother Gord was the kind of guy, he was never afraid of the tough conversations,’ says Mike Downie of the late Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip. Mike was in Port Alberni on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 to present Secret Path, a multi-media show about residential schools and reconciliation. SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News

Mike Downie, right, speaks with people who attended his presentation of Secret Path, a multi-media project he worked on with his late brother, musician Gord Downie, that tells the story of Chanie Wenjack. Chanie was a boy who died 50 years ago trying to return home from residential school. SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News

Just Posted

Two pedestrians struck by vehicles in Port Alberni

Fire chief reminds motorists, pedestrians to be cautious

Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns says Scheer’s resignation not surprising

Pressure is on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, as the lone major party leader remaining in the opposition

Drag racers ask for three-year lease at Alberni Valley Airport to race

AVDRA is pursuing a location for a permanent drag racing facility in Port Alberni

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs acquire veteran forward from QMJHL

Matthew Grouchy set to join the Bulldogs on Friday, Dec. 13

‘Not a decision I came to lightly:’ Scheer to resign as Conservative leader

Decision comes after weeks of Conservative infighting following the October election

‘British Columbians are paying too much’: Eby directs ICBC to delay rate application

Attorney General David Eby calls for delay in order to see how two reforms play out

VIDEO: Octopus, bald eagle battle after bird ‘bites off more than it can chew’ in B.C. waters

B.C. crew films fight between the two feisty animals in Quatsino off north Vancouver Island

Couple who bought $120k banana duct-taped to wall say artwork will be ‘iconic’

Pair compared it to Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans,’ which was initially ‘met with mockery’

Race to replace Andrew Scheer could be a crowded one

Many familiar faces, such as Maxime Bernier, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford and Kevin O’Leary, have said no

UPDATE: University student dies, another injured in car crash in Nanaimo

Students part of Vancouver Island University’s automotive program

Owner surrenders dogs chained up outside among scrap metal, garbage to BC SPCA

Shepherd-breed dogs were living in ‘deplorable conditions.’

B.C. plane crash victim identified; witnesses describe ‘explosion’

He was a flight instructor, charter pilot and owned an airstrip before leaving Alberta

Most Read