The Tragically Hip have been called the "quintessential Canadian band" countless times throughout their time together. They're so important to our country's musical history that when singer Gord Downie passed away in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was moved to tears during a press conference.
The band, who were given the Humanitarian Award for their philanthropy at the JUNOs on June 6, haven't played live on TV since Gord's death from a rare form of brain cancer, but they took the opportunity to reunite during the broadcast. And they had Leslie Feist, best known for her work as a solo artist and in Broken Social Scene and By Divine Right – with them.
Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair and Leslie performed from the legendary Massey Hall, which is still undergoing extensive renovations in Toronto. They were introduced by several other legends – Gordon Lightfoot and Rush's Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee – before they ran through "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken," from 2002's In Violet Light.
As they accepted the award, Gord opened up about how the band's performance with Rush at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens in 1991 for their annual charity concert was the catalyst that made them want to give back.
"The spotlight that's been reflected on us for 30 plus years has provided us with myriad opportunities," Rob added. "We've always felt that it was our responsibility to reflect that light back and bring some illumination to where it might be needed."
Last week, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced results from a ground-penetrating radar survey indicated the remains of 215 children are buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.
During his lifetime, Gord Downie was honoured by the Assembly of First Nations for his work on reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples. Before Gord passed away, he released an album called Secret Path. It was accompanied by a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire and was also turned into an animated film for CBC Television.
The concept album, graphic novel and film tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibwe boy who ran away from a residential school in Kenora, Ont., but died of hunger while trying to walk 600 kilometres home to the Marten Falls reserve.
In 2016, Gord was given a special honour for his work from the Assembly of First Nations. He received the Lakota spirit name Wicapi Omani, which means "Man who walks among the stars," and was also given an eagle feather. Many Indigenous cultures consider the eagle to be the Creator's messenger.
Patrick Downie, the late Gord Downie's brother, appeared with the Hip to accept the Humanitarian Award on Gord's behalf and said the band and Gord's family are "still very much feeling" his loss.
"We draw strength and solace not just from his words, but from the way he lived his life," Patrick said. "His big heart served him well. It fed his art, and put him in the service of others. He cared. His actions now speak for themselves, so may Gord always be in your heart and inspire us all to take care of this world and each other."
You can watch the Hip and Leslie's full performance below: