Each year, for a few fleeting days at the start of November, red flowers make appearances on the coats of students, staff, and faculty crossing campus. For a moment on November 11 at 11:00 am, many will pause in silence, perhaps to think about a time when campus wasn’t so peaceful in the shroud of late fall, and when youth was inextricably tinged with the uncertainty of war.These symbols — the tower, the wreaths, the recitations of McCrae’s powerful verse — represent our collective history. They preserve the memories of those who gave their lives and implore us to learn — to notice the individual names etched on the tower, and discover the stories behind them.
Unlike most music I listen to, I couldn’t possibly say where or when I first heard The Tragically Hip. Which is odd, because I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard Arcade Fire (my backyard; the eighth grade; trying to skateboard even though I have notoriously poor balance), The Arkells (an overnight summer camp; the ninth grade; eating a very culturally appropriated Chinese stir fry), and pretty much any other musical ensemble that I would eventually label a favourite.
Most Canadians appear to share this problem. Many of us grew up with The Tragically Hip, but few can point to a time when we first acknowledged the band’s presence. The Hip were always around, whether we intended to hear them or not — on CBC radio, in our parents’ CD collection, or in local concert venues. They recorded prolifically and toured regularly. Whenever they performed in Toronto, I would always think, ‘I can go next year, when they inevitably return.’The winter was peak Hip season for me. As a teenager I spent the colder days in Toronto playing pick-up hockey at the local rinks in my neighbourhood, and I would often listen to the band on the way to and from the makeshift arenas. Skates and stick in hand, I would first listen to “New Orleans Is Sinking” and “Three Pistols”—two songs expertly crafted to act as pre-game pump-ups—and then “50 Mission Cap.” It’s The Hip’s hockey song—a song about Bill Barilko, a former defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who died on a fishing trip shortly after winning the Stanley Cup.