Gordon Lightfoot touched the hearts of many Canadians throughout his decades-long career. In light of his death earlier this week, some Prince Edward Islanders are among those sharing how the folk music icon’s songs impacted their lives.
Lightfoot died at a Toronto hospital on Monday at the age of 84.
The Orillia, Ont.-born singer-songwriter has left behind a musical legacy that inspired generations of Canadian musicians.
In 2010, Summerside singer Catherine MacLellan was invited to perform at a Canadian Songwriter Hall of Fame event that featured Lightfoot and The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie having a conversation in which they reflected about their respective careers.
MacLellan said that performance was probably one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences she’s ever had as a musician.
“They asked me to come and sing a couple of my own songs and to sing a Gordon Lightfoot song while both of them were on stage behind me — and it was terrifying,” MacLellan said.
“I couldn’t believe two of my greatest heroes [were] on stage behind me while I was performing. I was just so nervous that I was going to mess it up and just, I don’t know — it’s one of those moments I’ll never forget.”
MacLellan performed a song by Lightfoot at the event, along with some of her own music. She would go on to win a Juno Award in 2015 for her album, The Raven’s Sun.
But 13 years ago, she was still a relative newcomer to the music industry. MacLellan said Lightfoot was sweet and very generous when they met that “terrifying” night — and offered her some career advice backstage.
You always got to give ’em a toe-tapper.— What Gordon Lightfoot told Catherine MacLellan in 2010
“You always got to give ’em a toe-tapper,” MacLellan recalls him saying.
“Anytime I got to see him perform after that, I realized he really meant it … It might be a sad song or it might be these intimate songs that he would sing always, [but] people were always tapping their toes and having a great time listening.”
Other Islanders agree with MacLellan.
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“My wife and I saw him on the Confed Centre stage in 1989 as the ‘surprise guest’ on the old CBC-TV show Front Page Challenge,” Mike Stratton said in reply to a CBC P.E.I. Facebook post asking people to share their memories of Lightfoot.
“Nobody in the Charlottetown audience knew he would be on the show and it was such a treat! Supposedly, Gord liked the venue so much, he arranged it to be a stop on his 1990 tour. My wife and I were lucky to get tickets to that as well. What a magical night that was … I’ve been to many shows since, but Wendy and I agree that Gordon Lightfoot’s concert that evening still ranks as the best.”
Like MacLellan, Paul Pettipas wrote that he grew up listening to Lightfoot’s music.
“It’s so evocative. It transports me to different places and times,” he said. “Only got to see him in concert once, sadly. But so glad I did. The older I have gotten, I have grown to appreciate his genius level more and more.”
Other Islanders said they were very fortunate to have encountered Lightfoot in person.
“Had the privilege of meeting him in 2014 after his Summerside show. Just a class act,” wrote D’Arcy Ellis.
“I met Gordon Lightfoot at a birthday party for Stompin’ Tom that band Whiskey Jack throws every year since Tom passed,” said Alan Dalton. “He liked the hockey jersey I was wearing and I talked to him about hockey for over 25 minutes.
“What a great man. Really made everyone he met feel special.”
Still more Islanders shared the special occasions — and people — Lightfoot’s music reminds them of.
“In the early ’70s, his songs were all over the AM radio,” Ed Terrell said. “We spent our summers on P.E.I. listening to these now-classic hits.”
“Years ago I bought his music book with many of his songs in it,” wrote Jane Wilson. “I learned to play many of them on my guitar … Christian Island is one of many that I loved to play. A true legend whose songs and stories will remain with us.”
Those songs are a part of the Canadian landscape.— Catherine MacLellan.
“Long drives coming home from my grandparents at Christmas time. My Dad would play Gordon Lightfoot as we dozed full of candy with gifts on our laps,” Misty-Lynn Tomkins Caseley said.
“We played Gordon Lightfoot at my father’s memorial. Hopefully they have met up on the other side.”
MacLellan said she can’t remember the first time she heard Lightfoot — but his music was always there for her.
“Those songs are a part of the Canadian landscape,” she said. “I might not even have known that they were Gordon Lightfoot songs. They were just songs that were surrounding me.”