Skip to content

BEHIND THE SCENES: Gordon Lightfoot receives heartfelt goodbye in Orillia

OrillaMatter's reporter Greg McGrath-Goudie takes us behind the scenes

The community of Orillia gathered at St. Paul's Centre last Sunday to mourn the loss of their beloved singer/songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot. Fans, family, and friends from all over Ontario, Canada, and the United States lined up for hours outside the church entrance, braving a brief rain shower while paying their respects at the public service. The line stretched from the church entrance up Peter Street to Neywash Street and back twice on the closed street. As a tribute to Lightfoot's iconic song about the Edmund Fitzgerald, St. Paul's Centre tolled its bell 30 times, honoring the memory of the sailors and the man who immortalized their tragic fate on Lake Superior 48 years ago. Gordon Lightfoot, aged 84, passed away from natural causes in a Toronto hospital on May 1.

The impact of Lightfoot, both as a person and a musician, was immeasurable for the hundreds of mourners who lined the streets of Orillia to bid farewell to the folk legend. His songs resonated with people on a personal level, as he often incorporated local themes and Indigenous history into his music. Myeengun Henry, who traveled from the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, highlighted Lightfoot's significant influence in the Indigenous community, expressing gratitude for his contributions. Bernie David, a devoted fan for over 50 years, recalled how Lightfoot's music played a role in his own love story, as he attended a concert with his future wife during their high school years. For many, Lightfoot's music was the soundtrack of their youth, evoking cherished memories and moments shared with friends and family.

Rick Haynes, Lightfoot's longtime bassist, recognized the profound impact the late musician had on Orillia. Lightfoot not only put the city on the map through his music but also remained caring despite his fame. Haynes described Lightfoot as a humble and engaging individual who genuinely cared for others and always made time for them. The visitation at St. Paul's Centre would continue until 8 p.m. last Sunday, allowing more people to pay their respects. A private funeral for Gordon Lightfoot is scheduled to take place in Orillia next week.

Video summary:

Fans, family, and friends of Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot gathered from all over the continent to attend his visitation in Orillia this past Sunday. OrilliaMatters reporter Greg McGrath-Goudie was present at St. Paul's Centre to capture the emotions and heartfelt goodbyes during the visitation, which drew hundreds of people who came to pay their respects to Orillia's favorite son. Lightfoot, who passed away in his 80s, had a profound impact on the attendees, evoking a mixture of sadness and admiration. During the visitation, the church bell at St. Paul's rang 30 times, signifying the passing of Gordon Lightfoot and paying tribute to his famous song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." This song recounts the tragic story of a freighter that sank on Lake Superior in 1975, claiming the lives of 29 sailors. The Mariners' Church of Detroit had previously rung its bell 29 times, one for each soul lost in the shipwreck. By adding an extra toll, St. Paul's Centre included Lightfoot himself in this commemoration, acknowledging his connection to the tale. The significance of this gesture added a poignant touch to the farewell ceremony.

Many attendees shared personal connections and stories about Gordon Lightfoot. One woman, who had gone to school with Lightfoot and was a year younger than him, recalled their time together in a group called "The Two Tones." Another attendee, a promoter from Minnesota, attributed his successful career to Lightfoot's influence and even wrote a book about his promoting career, which Lightfoot supported. There was also a gentleman from Cambridge who had gone on canoe trips with Lightfoot for several years. These stories reflected the impact Lightfoot had on people's lives, whether through his music, personal connections, or inspiring journeys.

Gordon Lightfoot's impact on his hometown of Orillia was profound and enduring. Unlike many famous musicians, Lightfoot consistently paid homage to his roots and remained connected to the city throughout his career. He generously donated the proceeds from concerts to causes such as the Soldier's Memorial Hospital, and he began his career as a choirboy at St. Paul's Centre. Lightfoot's desire to be buried in his hometown further emphasized his strong ties to Orillia. His continuous support and connection to the community left a lasting impression on the people who lived there, making him a true legend in their eyes.