By Simon Peterson
Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire’s Secret Path provides a history lesson many Canadians have not known much about. It’s the tragic story of Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous boy who ran away from the Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School in Kenora, ON, and attempted to find his way home, hundreds of miles away. He died trying. What happened in residential schools was brutal. It’s one of the darkest parts of Canada’s history.
The hour-long animated film, well crafted from Downie’s music and Lemire’s graphic novel, is sad, and I describe it this way, not so people will avoid watching this animated film, but so people will watch it and be prepared to think and to feel. The music, coupled with the animation, tell the story very well, giving a visual sense of the emotion Wenjack must have felt. The masterful lyrics may have you wiping tears.
One of the ways the animation really affected me was through its use of contrast between Wenjack’s poor life as a boy stripped of his culture and his happier life with the strength of family. His flashbacks are also shown in vibrant colours that help you realize how much he enjoyed his old life, in contrast to the new one. Only when he is in a place like a residential school does he appreciate how great he had it. This epiphany he has really makes the viewer appreciate a normal life that we can easily take for granted.
This profound educational experience digs deep, putting you through Wenjack’s good memories and the painful loss of them.
If you want to experience the album, come to Vinyl Club on Tuesday, March 30th, in S114. Bring your lunch. Mr. Dame will introduce the album.