Visit our on-site DOWNIE WENJACK LEGACY SPACE on a brewery tour.

Gord Downie - the legendary frontman for The Tragically Hip and an incredibly talented singer-songwriter, musician, writer, and activist - captured the hearts and attention of Canadians like no other. In May 2016, he first announced his incurable brain cancer diagnosis, followed by news of a 15-show final summer tour for The Hip. The concerts became cultural events, and Downie used the opportunity and his influence during his final months of life to speak out in support of Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation. He released Secret Path, a multimedia project that tells the story of 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy, Chanie Wenjack, who died of exposure and hunger in 1966 after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, ON. Meanwhile, the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) was launched.

                   Photo Credit:  Mike Homer/Live Nation

"Like countless Canadians, Steam Whistle's staff were inspired by the late artist and activist Gord Downie and his studio album Secret Path, which centred around the story of Chanie Wenjack. Chanie Wenjack's story inspired us to get involved to bring positive change in attitudes and actions." -  Greg Taylor, Co-founder of Steam Whistle Brewing

Steam Whistle began fundraising for DWF in 2018, donating more than $41,000 over three years from DWF-featured draught sales in bars & restaurants across the country. When the pandemic forced the closure of many hospitality establishments, Steam Whistle instead teamed up with Mackay Taggart to bring Canadians together for weekly online trivia supporting Gord Downie's legacy. Quizzing & Quarantine continued the conversation that began with Chanie Wenjack's residential school story by including thematic rounds of Tragically Hip trivia and Indigenous history in Canada.

After the pandemic subsided, Steam Whistle's next phase of support was establishing a Legacy Space within the brewery. Legacy Spaces are safe, welcoming places where conversations and education about the true history of Canada and our collective journey toward reconciliation are encouraged and supported. With now over 100 Legacy Spaces in venues like corporate offices, community centres, schools, and more, DWF is ensuring that Indigenous perspectives are represented and celebrated in workplaces. Educational materials and signage have been installed on the Steam Whistle tour route, where local and international visitors alike can gain awareness, educate themselves, and connect on this important path toward reconciliation. Steam Whistle has welcomed more than a million visitors to the brewery since it opened in May 2000 and now proudly uses this public platform to advance awareness of the critical work of DWF year-round.


Steam Whistle has its own unique piece of Gord Downie trivia to share. In January 2001, the brewery rented out what is now Pilsner Hall for its very first event. The three-day DO WHAT ?! ARTS FESTIVAL included art installations, film, poetry, dance, and musical performances supported by The WoodChoppers Association, an improv orchestra led by Dave Clark. For this performance, Much Music VJ Sook Yin Lee joined the WoodChoppers. The Festival was a sold-out show. Gord Downie who had just launched his solo career sang and performed spoken word poetry accompanied by interpretive dancers Andrea Naan and Lisa Prebianca.Downie introduced pieces from his forthcoming CD and poetry book, packaged together under the title "Coke Machine Glow." Fans from as far as NYC drove to capture this unique performance. Writer Jeff Peters for JAM! Music described the Saturday evening festival performance:

"Ultimately, the undertaking was a daring and heartfelt performance by one of Canada's most respected artists. For Downie to step into the unknown alone leaves himself wide open to criticism. But judging from the overwhelmingly positive response Saturday night from his fans, many more will be wanting to know what this poet is doing."


Inspired by Chanie’s story and Gord’s call to build a better Canada, the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund aims to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Our goal is to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education, and connections between all peoples in Canada.


Social:   Facebook: @DownieWenjack  Twitter: @DownieWenjack Instagram: @DownieWenjack

Visit Steam Whistle and tour the brewery’s DOWNIE WENJACK LEGACY SPACE. Learn more and BOOK A TOUR here.


Posted on June 03 2024, By: TK Palermo


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