Mike Layton wants Toronto to see the final Tragically Hip concert together

Ward 19 councillor puts forth a motion to find a city space where Hip fans can watch the broadcast concert


Mike Layton recognizes a culturally significant event when he sees one. 

The Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina councillor is putting forth a motion at next week’s July 12-13 council meeting to find a city facility to broadcast the Tragically Hip’s final concert to Toronto fans. 

“With CBC broadcasting the show, it’s going to be flying through the airwaves,” says Layton over the phone, “and there will be those who want to celebrate it in solitude in front of their TVs but I think others will want to celebrate this together.

“I don’t know about you, but Hip songs have been the soundtrack to a good portion of my life – moments that typically involved lots of people and good times.”

The concert happens in the rock band’s hometown of Kingston on August 20, the final date of a 15-stop tour in support of new album Man Machine Poem. Its announcement in May came with the news of lead singer Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer, a diagnosis that hits close to home for Layton, whose father, Jack, died of cancer in 2011. 

“I saw my father go through treatment and it’s not easy physically, and then emotionally for his family. They are all making a commitment here.”

Layton says he doesn’t know Downie personally but that when he first heard the news, he taught himself how to play 1998 Hip hit Bobcaygeon on the ukulele for his child. 

“I think it’s so special that in a time when he’s going through such a personal struggle – and I know there’s a family struggle going on there, too, right – for him to be so dedicated to his music and fans to go ahead and say I’m going on tour. I can only imagine how difficult physically a national tour is. For him and all of the [band members] to do this at such an emotional time is really remarkable.”

Layton says the shared space could be a large public square like Nathan Phillips Square, Yonge-Dundas Square, David Pecaut Square or Mel Lastman Square. But he’s also open to the idea of a park, a theatre or multiple spaces. He’s recommending that council authorize the general manager of economic development and culture to explore site options and assign necessary funds from their existing operating budget or through a sponsor to cover all or part of the costs.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do it,” he says. “I don’t know if CBC will give us the rights. I don’t know if we’ll be able to find the money. But I think it’s worth trying. And I wanted to make sure before council broke for the summer that we gave staff direction to see if this could all work. 

“You don’t get a lot of moments like this in our Canadian cultural scene.”

Plus, so few of us were able to get tickets to the final shows, something Layton also had first-hand experience with. When an additional block of tickets went on sale for the three Toronto dates at the Air Canada Centre, he took the opportunity just ahead of chairing community council to try to buy one on his phone. 

“Sadly, I was not one of the lucky ones.”

Does he feel council will respond positively to his motion, which was seconded by Councillor Joe Cressy?

“I think most members of council, despite some of their ages, will probably have a memory of a time when a Hip song touched their lives,” Layton says. “I think people will respond favourably.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to find a public space to have a special Toronto moment. I have no doubt that other municipalities will be looking for a similar way to celebrate the band and allow fans to enjoy their music, which we certainly will continue to do for decades to come.”

Meanwhile, the Horseshoe and Molson Canadian just announced a live broadcast of the concert on a giant screen in the 370 Queen West venue’s main room on August 20, 8 pm. The licensed event is free, though any PWYC donations will go to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research.

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis

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