For many Canadians, Kingston and The Tragically Hip go hand in hand. Since the band’s frontman Gord Downie passed away in 2017, fans of all ages visit the city. In Kingston, fans pay tribute to the Hip and their contributions to Canada’s cultural landscape. If you’d like to count yourself among them, check out these 9 places to see on a Tragically Hip Kingston tour. They’ll help you deepen your appreciation for the city the Hip call home.
The Tragically Hip played their final show together in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, on August 20, 2016. That concert took place at the arena known today as the Leon’s Centre. At the time, it was called the Rogers K-Rock Centre. The arena is right downtown at the corner of King Street East and The Tragically Hip Way, the street named in the band’s honour. If you go to Kingston and don’t take a selfie with the street sign for The Tragically Hip Way, are you even a Hip fan? Stop and check out the lyrics on the windows nearby to see if you can name the songs they’re from.
Springer Market Square
Springer Market Square is a lively space. It hosts farmers’ markets and other events in downtown Kingston during the summer. In the winter, it’s transformed into a rink for ice skating.
This square is where an overflow crowd of 25,000 people gathered for the Hip’s final concert. Later, a candlelight vigil and a screening of the documentary Long Time Running about the band’s final tour were held in the square following Downie’s passing on October 17, 2017.
The City of Kingston installed a commemorative stone in Springer Market Square in February 2017 to commemorate the farewell concert. The lyric on the stone at Springer Market Square reads, “Everybody was in it for miles around,” from the Tragically Hip song Blow at High Dough. Find it among the cobblestones near the corner of King Street East and Brock Street. It’s easiest to find in the warmer months when it’s not covered in snow!
Skeleton Park is the name of a Tragically Hip song. It was available only with preorders of the album We Are the Same when it was released on iTunes in 2009. It’s also the name of a park in Kingston. If you search for it on Google Maps, it will come up under Skeleton Park as well as its official name, McBurney Park.
This park was the site of Kingston’s main cemetery until 1864. The lyrics of the Tragically Hip song say, “In Skeleton Park, one fine summer evening … the ghosts of the Rideau Canal start to sing.” This lyric refers to the workers who died and were buried in this park after contracting malaria while constructing the Rideau Canal in the early 1800s.
Clark Hall Pub
Many of the pubs the Hip played in their early days have since closed, but Clark Hall Pub lives on. This is the oldest pub on the campus of Queen’s University. Three of the band’s members graduated from Queen’s in the 1980s, and all five members received honorary degrees from the university in 2016.
The Hip performed here early in their careers, including competing for—and losing—a competition to be the pub’s house band. Here’s the bad news: to get into Clark Hall Pub, you either have to be a Queen’s student or a guest of one. But it’s totally above board to stroll past the pub and catch a glimpse of it from the outside.
Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute
The building at 235 Frontenac Street is the site of the former Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute, where Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker were high school students when the band formed in Kingston in 1984. The building no longer houses a high school, but it still exists today after being purchased by nearby Queen’s University.
Gord Edgar Downie Pier
In July 2018, the City of Kingston opened Gord Edgar Downie Pier at Breakwater Park. It’s a fitting location to honour the Tragically Hip’s frontman. He lived near the city’s old pier and was involved extensively in water conservation work, including as a board member of the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers. Today, the pier provides a wonderful location for swimming in the lake on warmer days. This part of the park is now a popular summer hangout, particular for university students. If you’re looking for a more contemplative experience, visit on a weekday when school is in session.
Bellevue House National Historic Site
Trust us: this one makes sense. It certainly doesn’t seem to, though. This historic home was briefly occupied from 1848 to 1849 by Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and his family.
We know today that Macdonald’s legacy is problematic, including his role in authorizing Canada’s residential school system for Indigenous children. So, what’s the connection? As part of Canada’s reconciliation efforts, Parks Canada has installed the Many Voices of Confederation exhibit in the visitor centre here addressing this complicated subject. Gord Downie advocated passionately to shine a light on the injustices endured by Canada’s Indigenous peoples in the years before his passing. It’s partly because of his work that exhibits such as this one exist. It’s therefore fitting that visitors can learn about this important subject just steps from the pier that now bears Downie’s name. This is an unintentional tribute, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
This one is for the most serious Hip fans. In the song 38 Years Old from the 1989 album Up to Here, the lyrics take creative liberties with a true story. “12 men broke loose in ‘73,” Downie sings, “from Millhaven Maximum Security.” In reality, it was 14 men who escaped, and the year was 1972. The rest of the song is fiction.
What’s very real, though, is the Millhaven Institution itself. It still operates today as a maximum security prison. You can catch a glimpse of it just east of Bath if you choose to enter Kingston via the Loyalist Parkway, Highway 33. The penitentiary is federal government property, and you can’t visit the penitentiary or even approach it. This is therefore a brief drive-by at best. But if you’re a devout Hip fan visiting Kingston as a tribute, you may want to roll past it as a nod to this iconic Hip tune.
This is another drive-by only location. But if you care enough to pass Millhaven then you’ll appreciate this one, and you’ll be in the area anyway. A little west of Bath but still on Loyalist Parkway is The Bathouse, a recording studio owned by members of the Tragically Hip. Many of the band’s albums were recorded here, along with albums by dozens more prominent Canadian artists.
This is still a fully operational professional recording studio, and it’s not open to the public in any capacity. It wouldn’t be appropriate to approach the building without permission. (And please, don’t knock on the door and tell them we sent you! We respect their privacy.) However, there does happen to be a rest area on Highway 33 directly opposite The Bathouse. You could pull over here and view the studio from the other side of the road without disturbing anyone if you’d like to pay your respects.