Ours, not theirs

The nationalism that a bluesy bar band from eastern Ontario built

Most rock concerts, even farewell ones, don’t become a coast-to-coast event to which an estimated 12 million people tune in. But the Tragically Hip, over the course of a 32-year career, have been elevated to rarefied air among Canadian artists: not just a beloved band or a point of national pride, but a shorthand for explaining “who we are” in musical terms. At Halifax’s Grand Parade square, where fans like me gathered in August 2016 to watch the concert’s live broadcast, red-and-white Maple Leafs abounded. Multiple choruses of O Canada broke out, as they did at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario, where the Hip were playing the final show of their Man Machine Poem tour, announced following singer Gord Downie’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer. The CBC subtitled their live presentation of the concert “a national celebration.” It was a different flavour of Canadian moment from the more modern one embodied by the cadre of...