riverdale park east

People want to rename a popular public space in Toronto after Gord Downie

Despite growing up in Kingston, Ont., late Canadian singer-songwriter and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie found a second home in Toronto's Riverdale neighbourhood. 

Revered by many as one of the most influential artists in Canadian music history, the poet and humanitarian lived in the neighbourhood for several years with his family, owning at least two homes in the Broadview-Danforth area. 

In honour of the musician's legacy and impact, the founder of an Ontario-based tour and camping company is spearheading a campaign to have Riverdale Park East in Toronto renamed after the legendary artist. 

Damian Jakibchuk, the founder of Lake Fever Wilderness Co., told blogTO that the idea to rename the park originated in early 2021. 

"I'd been trying to come up with a way that I could put myself forward via my company to honour Gord in some commemorative way. Frankly, it really meant a lot to me," he explained. 

Just two years after receiving his diagnosis, Downie died of glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, on Oct. 17, 2017, at the age of 53 in Toronto. 

After his passing, Jakibchuk decided to name his company after the Tragically Hip song "Lake Fever" off of the band's seventh studio album, Music @ Work.

"When Gord died, I'd begun thinking about ways that my company could do something more," he told blogTO. 

"As we operate full-service camping trips, I thought that we could combine our affinity for the outdoors with Gord's environmental activism to rename an outdoor space after him, somewhere accessible where citizens and visitors could reflect on the impact he's had on Canada." 

Inspired by the Gord Edgar Downie Pier in Kingston, Jakibchuk selected Riverdale Park East to be renamed after the late musician, since the park was not already named after someone and considering Downie had spent a considerable amount of time in the neighbourhood. 

As per the City's application process, Jakibchuk's company began collecting letters of support from local organizations who were in favour of the renaming. 

"I'd also reached out to The Hip's manager, Jake Gold, who was gracious enough to be the liaison between myself and the Downie family. Gord's brother signed off on the park on behalf of Gord's estate," he told blogTO. 

Some of the organizations Jakibchuk corresponded with recommended that he get in touch with Councilor Paula Fletcher's office since the park is located in her ward. 

Coincidentally enough, Fletcher has helped to rename city property after musicians in the past. In May 2022, Fletcher was joined by former Mayor John Tory and the members of Canadian country rock band Blue Rodeo to unveil a street named in their honour. 

The public street, named Blue Rodeo Drive, is located just north of Gerrard Street East and west of Broadview Avenue, not far from where the band's studio is located.

"I was told that the timing was perfect, as there was a minimum of two years to wait after someone's death before one could name city property after them. There seemed to be a lot of excitement around the idea," Jakibchuk said. 

Despite support for the initiative, a moratorium in effect due to COVID-19 prevented the first application from moving forward. Once the suspension ended, Jakibchuk started a whole new application process and reached back out to supporters for updated letters. 

Along with the permission the company received from Downie's estate, Jakibchuk has also collected glowing letters of support from several organizations, including the Toronto Arts Council, Work in Culture, as well as one from Canadian broadcaster and writer Alan Cross

"I also reached out to the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. They were excited about the idea, and a possible simultaneous public acknowledgment of the history of the land," Jakibchuk explained. 

The fund, which is part of Downie's legacy and commitment to reconciliation, also provided a letter of support for renaming the park.

"Inspired by Chanie's story and Gord's call to action to build a better Canada, DWF aims to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples," the letter reads.

"Gord Downie learned about Chanie Wenjack later in life and used his final years to urge all peoples in Canada to look at the state of Indigenous-settler relations in this country and to 'Do Something' to change them for the better," the letter of support continues. 

"Dedicating this park to Gord's life and mission would be a significant step on the path towards reconciliation in Toronto, and we are excited to help champion this project in the hopes that it could one day be utilized as an educational space for the community." 

Jakibchuk says he has been in talks with the fund about the possibility of posting one of their Legacy Spaces within the park, which could serve as a means of educating the public on local Indigenous history. 

"He was a force to be reckoned with when it came to confronting the legacy of colonialism and systemic racism in Canada, and Gord's name is a useful stepping stone to promote a broader understanding of history and its legacy on communities," he told blogTO. 

At the time of this article's publication, the City is still reviewing Jakibchuk’s application.

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