WELL Health
Trending >

Why did the Tragically Hip farewell tour raise so little cash for cancer research?

Tragically Hip

Tragically HipThe Canadian Cancer Society and the Sunnybrook Foundation have reported that this summer’s tour by Canadian rock icons the Tragically Hip raised more than $1-million for brain cancer research.

Representatives from the Canadian Cancer Society say nearly $400,000 in donations have been received, while the Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, through the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research, has reported $800,000 in donations.

The result stems from Hip frontman Gord Downie’s announcement earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a terminal form of brain cancer, news which was greeted by an outpouring of emotion and support from adoring fans over the last few months, culminating in a widely celebrated 15-date cross-Canada tour in August.

In giving not just their money but in many cases also their time, energy and good will, all those Canadians who supported brain cancer research with their efforts should be commended. First and foremost, this is the reality.


A Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner, a sophisticated machine that is used to detect cancer, costs as much as $5-million. A month long national outpouring of grief only chipped in a fifth of the cost of one of these vital devices?

But we need to ask. Just a million? Really?

By comparison, a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner, a sophisticated machine that is used to detect cancer, costs as much as $5-million. A month long national outpouring of grief only chipped in a fifth of the cost of one of these vital devices?

Consider all the interest garnered by the events. From Downie’s diagnosis to the tour announcement, the ballooning ticket prices and the die-hard fans. Through all the parties and sold-out shows, all of it ending with a final concert in Kingston, Ontario, broadcast by the CBC and reportedly watched by 11.7 million people -no less than one third of the Canadian population.

Below: The Tragically Hip perform “New Orleans Is Sinking” for thousands of fans to celebrate their last stop on the Man Machine Poem tour in their hometown of Kingston, Ont.

And those are just the big-ticket events. Think of all the fundraising BBQs and bake sales that took place in every city and town across the country. The charity concert screenings at local bars, in public parks and auditoriums. The “In Gord We Trust” ball caps.

Are Canadians not so generous with their money? On the contrary, studies have shown that Canada ranks among the top handful of countries worldwide when it comes to charitable donations. A report earlier this year found that as a percentage of GDP, Canadians give 0.77 per cent, only behind New Zealand at 0.79 per cent and the United States at 1.44 per cent.

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life relies on regularity and its well-oiled infrastructure to produce its donation numbers, which are upwards of $40 to $50 million a year.

Is it more the case that the $1 million is closer to the norm for this type of one-off event? The Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, for instance, one of the juggernauts of Canadian giving, relies on regularity and its well-oiled infrastructure to produce its donation numbers, which are upwards of $40 to $50 million a year.

Remember the ice bucket challenge? That was a blip on the viral radar a couple of summers ago. It raised over $20 million for ALS research in Canada alone.

There are various psychological quirks about donating and giving to charities, of course. People often refrain from giving when they are not 100 per cent convinced that their donation will be used effectively. They can be turned off from giving just by the way the charitable pitch is delivered. And people are less likely to give if there is no direct and personal connection to the cause.

But at the same time, studies have shown that giving is a social, contagious act. We are more likely to give when our friends are doing it. We can easily get caught up in the moment, pulled in by the emotional gravity of the situation – it’s called compassion. Plus, it feels good to give and we’re happier and healthier for it.

All of which leaves us still wondering about the $1 million. Again, it must be stressed that all those who donated have done a wonderful and generous thing. But who among us didn’t cheer and cry when Gord took the stage in Kingston? We were all caught up in the moment, pulled in by the gravity of the situation. Truly, it is not a stretch to say that over the past few months, Canadians experienced a real cultural moment.

But, $1-million? Surely Tragically Hip Fans can do better. Let’s start here, the donation page for the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research.

We Hate Paywalls Too!

At Cantech Letter we prize independent journalism like you do. And we don't care for paywalls and popups and all that noise That's why we need your support. If you value getting your daily information from the experts, won't you help us? No donation is too small.

Make a one-time or recurring donation

About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
insta twitter facebook


  1. perhaps the economic reality of joblessness in once prosperous provinces is making itself felt in all aspects of our society now… the other events you’ve listed in this article predate our new economic reality.

  2. Since money given to the cancer society, and even a hospital, will ONLY go to research new poisons to kill people with (chemo), instead of TRUE cures, which are out there, I really don’t care that they didn’t raise more money for that kind of biased research.

  3. My mom was a nurse in the early 50’s and she tells me cancer was very rare, since then we’ve begun putting chemicals in and on everything, Billions have been spent on cancer research and it’s become rampant … there are a lot of people who think like ursulamargrit

  4. Oh please. “My mom was a nurse.” A statement exceeded in its ignorance only by, “I did my research on Google” The average life expectancy in Canada has increased by 25 years since the ’20s. 25 years! A quarter century! Why do you think that is? Could we be diagnosing more cancer because our population is getting older and older people get more cancer? Ya think?

  5. Thank you. So sick “I know a guy who knows a guy” theories. I work in a cancer center and no one is trying to kill people. I get so sick of those idiots.

  6. The band never promoted Gord’s brain tumour foundation. At no time did they mention it during their shows, otherwise I think more would have been raised. Downie never talked about his situation until Kingston and even then he just thanked everyone for helping him push through. People gave money because they got the link from social media. I think the band wanted to keep the focus on Gord and the album and the likelihood that it was their last big tour.

  7. Listen to Dr Leonard Horowitz on the links between cancer research and the US and Canadian military ‘ s deadly secret bio weapons programs since WW2. Cancer research is a multi billion $ scam that has killed millions yet keeps using the media to sell its life – destroying products. Nazi scientist George Merck headed Canada’s illegal biological weapons program based at McGill University which conducted lethal experiments on humans including small children. Get informed about this dark history before you donate to these criminals.

  8. Well what will you do if you are one of the many to get cancer? Tell them to leave you alone? I bet you want the hospital to provide the best it can with what it’s given. Shame on you bagging on healthcare workers They work hard including the lab.

  9. Who bagging on healthcare workers, fool? Did you even read my comment? Cancer “research” is the biggest scam going, there are cures out there but big Parma and doctors make too much money to allow them. There’s more money in “treating” cancer than CURING it

  10. I think charitable donations will be down this year. I’m going to watch the United Way Toronto & York Region numbers at the end of the year to see if my hypothesis is correct or not.
    Why? The biggest donors are rich people. People are forgetting that the top marginal tax rate went up quite a bit at the start of 2016, and high income people no longer qualify for child tax credits. The impact to actual cash flow for people earning $300k+ is actually quite significant. While the other 95% may not feel sorry for them, keep in mind they also have larger expenses (vacation homes, private schools, clubs, etc). So when you squeeze them hard enough, I think they will effectively say “fine” and let the government take over and do the charitable spending on their behalf, which is what happened with the generous child tax credits for low-income folks.

  11. Perhaps this might have something to do with the initial outcry about the tickets….people were miffed at the outrageous cost of tickets,,,,after you put out hundreds, then you resent being asked for any more?.. or possibly people had already contributed to the Canadian Cancer Society instead? I do every year, so I personally did not give more to the Downie fund….maybe people are done with contributions when times are financially tough, and we’ve given already to Fort Mac, the Syrian Refugees, etc.? It’s a really tough question, to which I do not have a good answer.

Leave a Reply