Craig and Marc Kielburger are co-founders of the WE movement, a family of organizations that includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.
The last time we saw Gord Downie, he was in his dressing room holding court with friends and family.
It was July 2, and alongside Pearl and Daisy Wenjack, he'd just finished speaking on stage at WE Day Canada on Parliament Hill, imploring the youngest generation of Canadians to champion reconciliation and make the next 150 years stronger than the last.
We'd come to thank him for sharing his time with us. His final tour with the Tragically Hip had ended nearly a year before, and he'd spent his time since then on WE Day stages across the country to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died running away from a residential school.
Like all Canadians, we got pulled into the gravitational force of Gord.
He was talking about legacy. Not his own – which had been cemented in the hearts of Canadians and minds of music lovers from coast to coast a long time ago – but in terms of what we all will leave behind.
He joked that people were starting to grow tired of him, having spent a year saying one long goodbye.
It was a dark joke, to be sure, playing at his own mortality. He was the only one who laughed at it. Still, it made us think about how quickly things become old, fashions change, causes fade and people and issues are forgotten.
He wasn't concerned about his own place in public memory – his final year was dedicated almost entirely to others, raising awareness about the impact of residential schools, the long road ahead for reconciliation and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.
Hidden in his self-effacing humour was his deepest desire, and his greatest fear.
He was scared that, without him in the spotlight, people would stop paying attention. That fear pushed him to give so much of himself even while his body failed him. He was fighting for every person in this country to know Chanie's story, for the conversation around reconciliation to continue long after he was gone.
He didn't want the public attention for his cause to die with him.
Like so many Canadians, we grew up on Gord's music, his riveting performances, denim tuxedos and eccentric personality. With The Stranger, we began to see him in an entirely new light, as someone giving their final moments to enforce change.
Days after the Tragically Hip electrified the entire country with their final show in Kingston, Ont., Gord joined us in Toronto for the first live performance of The Stranger. Backstage, he walked to the mic carefully, slowly, holding the shoulders of a friend who walked ahead, steadying him. Then, he took the stage and everything stopped. Singing alongside Pearl Wenjack to tell her brother Chanie's story, Gord began what he called the most important work of his life.
The Tragically Hip created the soundtrack for Canada. We learned to drive with their iconic songs playing in the background. They wrote the music for campfire singalongs and awkward school dances.
But that is not Gord's legacy.
Gord dedicated the final year of his life to the most difficult and important conversation we need to have as a nation. Generations of Canadians know him as a singer and we will feel his loss in music and culture for years to come. Generations from now, he will be remembered as much for his voice as for giving voice to others.
After Gord, Pearl and Daisy shared their hopes for reconciliation on stage, a choir of young people surprised Gord with their own rendition of his mournful tune about Chanie's story. As his tears fell, Gord couldn't take his eyes off the young choir members – the physical embodiment of his greatest hope that the next generation will pick up this cause.
As the choir drew to a close, each member pulled out an eccentric hat in tribute to Gord's iconic style. With the final notes of the song, they tipped their hats to him.
We tip our hats to Gord now. But we also need to make sure that the work Gord started, the project that took up his final months and last energy, does not die with him.
People would ask him backstage what they could do to get involved. He explained simply that he was a singer and a poet – so he wrote and he sang about it. We all have to find our own way to contribute to reconciliation. If we do that, we honour the legacy of Gord Downie.