QUEEN’S PARK — The Ontario Legislature voted unanimously on Thursday to pass a bill put forward by NDP MPP Percy Hatfield (Windsor-Tecumseh), to create a Poet Laureate of Ontario and establish the role in memory of Gord Downie, the late frontman of The Tragically Hip.
The beloved and iconic lead singer for the Juno Award-winning Kingston band, Downie was also a published poet. In his final years, Downie was an outspoken advocate for reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples. He died in 2017 from a rare form of brain cancer.
“I am beyond thrilled that the Ontario Legislature will honour Gord Downie’s life and legacy with the office of Ontario Poet Laureate. Creating this role in Downie’s memory is a powerful tribute to the legacy of this quintessentially Ontarian artist. Enshrining the office of Poet Laureate in Downie’s name both celebrates his life and gives an important platform to Ontario’s next generations of poets,” Hatfield said.
Ontario’s Poet Laureate will be responsible for promoting arts and literacy in the province, celebrating the province and its peoples and raising the profile of Ontario poets.
“Ontario’s Poet Laureate will act as Ontario’s literacy ambassador, traveling the province to bring attention to Ontario’s great poets and works of poetry, as well as the beauty and value of poetry in our society,” Hatfield said. “The Poet Laureate will also lead workshops, take part in poetry readings and encourage students to engage with poetry at school,” said Hatfield.
He pointed out that Canada’s federal government has a Poet Laureate, as do several other provinces and a number of Ontario municipalities.
“Poems by the Poet Laureate of Ontario will transform events into memorable, lasting experiences of pride and inspiration. The opening of a hospital, a bridge, a library, or an arena honoured by poetry will create a climate for citizens to treasure the past, take pride in the present, open pathways to the future.
— Mary Ann Mulhern, Poet Laureate of the City of Windsor
“Ontario's poetry is one of its greatest resources, if a lesser known one. Far-seeing Ontario cities such as Windsor and Toronto have spearheaded the growing, worldwide revival of the ancient role of Poet Laureate, and it is right and good to find the Province of Ontario adding momentum to this encouraging movement.”
— A. F. Moritz, Poet Laureate of the City of Toronto
"In contracts and legislatures, language can look like Latin and sound like gobbledygook, but the importance of the poetry of Gord Downie and of this bill that heralds his name is its reminder that the most meaningful speech is that which connects us, heart-to-heart, as clear as a slap shot and as civic as a kiss. Just as Gord Downie achieved in his songs, so will now the Poets Laureate of Ontario strive to represent, in poetry, the feelings and experiences and histories that bind all Ontarians in a commonwealth of imagination and of intelligence, of dream and of purpose."
— George Elliott Clarke
7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (of Canada), 2016-17
4th Poet Laureate of Toronto, 2012-2015