Our Gordie

Everyone has a story of the first time they heard or saw Gordon Lightfoot. For me, it was in 1969, at Montreal’s Place Des Arts. His words and music drew me into another world. And his band, with Red Shea on lead guitar, and bassist John Stockfish, fit the folk-based sound to a tee. I was won over immediately and completely.

He was as Canadian as they come, starting as a choir boy in St. Paul’s United Church in Orillia, and making his first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto at the age of 12. He would go on to play there 170 more times throughout his career. Some call Massey “The House that Gord Built.”

We called him Gord, or Gordie, because in Canada, our idols and icons are of the people. No matter how big and famous a Canadian gets, they’ll always be someone that you could run into on the street, in a bar, at a sporting event. Gord’s gym was in the Sheraton Hotel, where he regularly worked out six days a week, and he was frequently seen passing thru the Sheraton lobby, on his way there. The year of the first O’Cannabis event, held adjacent to Canadian Music Week‘s site, I saw him cruising the aisles, checking out the paraphernalia. When I turned the corner, and ran into film critic Jim Slotek , Jim excitedly told me that he’d just taken a selfie with Gord. 

Lightfoot sang Canada’s stories, and he played in every part of it. He cared so much about getting our story right that he even corrected his own lyrics to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald when information on the wreck was updated in 2010; the line, “At 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in; he said…“; was changed to,  “At 7 p.m. it grew dark, it was then he said….”  And he changed the line  “In a musty old hall” to ” In a rustic old hall” when parishioners of the Maritime Cathedral took offence at the notion that their hall was musty.

In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gord was asked to sing for us on Canada Day. The legendary sound engineer and musician Doug McClement remembered the day well, writing,

“So here’s my favourite of the dozen times I was lucky to record Mr. Gordon Lightfoot. June 11, 2020 on the front porch of his home in Rosedale. (across the street from Drake’s house) for the Toronto Canada Day special when we were all still distancing. His road manager told us “Here’s the deal. Get all set up and ready. No soundcheck. He’s coming out the front door, doing the two songs once, then going back in the house. So you better nail it, cause he will”. Nothing like a little pressure to get you focused. But with Terry Walker and Don Spence on cameras, and Shelagh O’Brien calling the shots, we were in good shape.

When Gord’s management team announced the cancellation of his U.S. and Canadian concert schedule for 2023,” for “some health related issues,” many of us worried. After all, at 84, most people would be kicking back and relaxing, not gallivanting all over North America like a young pup.  While people longed to see him one more time, there comes a time when you’re allowed to rest.

But we were right to worry. On the evening of May 1, 2023, at Toronto’s Sunnybrooke Health Sciences Centre, Gordon Lightfoot passed away of natural causes.

The day after his death, the Mariners’ Church in Detroit rang it’s bell a total of 30 times; 29 tolled for each of the crewman lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald. The final bell rang for Lightfoot himself.

A public visitation was held at St. Paul’s United Church, in his hometown of Orillia, and drew more than 2400 people. It was followed by a private funeral on May 8, 2023.

It’s been just over a week since we lost Gordie, but we can’t stop thinking about him. A petition is circulating at Toronto’s City Hall, requesting that Dundas Square be renamed to the Gordon Lightfoot Square. There’s also talk of a statue being erected in, or outside of, his beloved Massey Hall.

Lightfoot’s passing left Canada bereft. We’d lost our Gordie. But Canadians tend to look on the bright side; at least we had had the benefit of him, and his wonderful songs, for all of those years.

For more than sixty years, Gordon Lightfoot was one of the brightest stars in Canada.

But at the end of the day, he’ll always be remembered as ‘Our Gordie,” and a great Canadian.


  1. Kathleen E. Fillmore says:

    Still brings tears to my eyes!

    1. RoxanneT says:

      yes, this one really hurts.

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