The Shivering Songs festival film screening of Secret Path on Jan. 19 was an emotionally riveting kickoff to the winter festival.
The film shows 12 year-old Chanie Wenjack’s escape and trek along the railroad tracks from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School near Kenora, Ont., to his home in Ogoki Post – a roughly 600-kilometre cold, lonely walk through the bushes. He made it 60 kilometres from the residential school before freezing and starving to death.
From the 19th century until 1996, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to residential schools run by the churches and funded by the Canadian government. The children were stripped of their culture and emotionally, physically and sexually abused. The schools were designed to eliminate the Indigenous population.
“I know the g-word isn’t used often, but what happened was genocide,” said Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay.
Secret Path memorializes Wenjack’s horrible experience at the residential school and his arduous trek home by combining moving two-dimensional animation with ten songs composed by The Tragically Hips’ Gord Downie. Downie wanted to spark a conversation about reconciliation through the film. He certainly succeeded, at least at the Fredericton Playhouse, where the film was screened to a full audience. After the film, audience members expressed their thoughts, feelings and posed questions to a group of panelists.
Graeme Walker, one of the founders of Shivering Songs, emphasized the festival’s focus on bringing artists together to tell important stories.
“There is probably no better example of telling important stories than Secret Path,” said Walker.
One particularly striking and memorable scene, among many, shows Chanie’s small body shaking in the cold on the edge of the train tracks.
The song after which the film is named, “Secret Path,” references the fact that Chanie wore only a windbreaker over his clothes to protect him from the cold. He had no hat or gloves and was walking in below freezing temperatures for a week. The song also references that he had to walk through ice pellets and snow.
“There’s never been a colder rain then this one I’m in.”
It’s a film everyone should see, every Canadian, especially.