Fans, family, and friends flocked to St. Paul’s Centre Sunday to mourn the passing of Orillia’s favourite son, the internationally renowned singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
Travelling from across Ontario, Canada, and the United States, people began lining up this morning, hours in advance, in anticipation of the public service that runs from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
People, many sporting umbrellas during a brief rain shower, lined up outside the church entrance, up Peter Street to Neywash Street and then back and forth twice more on the closed street.
Just as a church bell long ago chimed at the Mariners' Church of Detroit for each of the 29 lost souls aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald, so, too, did St. Paul’s Centre toll its bell — a total of 30 times — capturing the loss of those sailors and the man who immortalized that harrowing wreck on Lake Superior 48 years ago.
Lightfoot, 84, died of natural causes at a Toronto hospital on May 1.
Both Lightfoot, the man, and Lightfoot, the musician, had an immeasurable impact on the hundreds that lined Peter Street to bid the folk legend a final farewell.
“He wrote some songs about the territory here, Lake Couchiching, and he's mentioned Indigenous things in his music,” said Myeengun Henry, who travelled from the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, near London. “That really got people to learn about Indigenous history, so he's huge in the Indigenous world and we respected everything he did.”
Bernie David, a fan of over 50 years, drove from Toronto this morning to pay his respects to the man he credits for, in a way, introducing him to his future wife.
“In high school, she had tickets for Lightfoot, and I went, and I’ve loved him ever since,” recalled a misty-eyed David, who went on to marry his high school sweetheart.
“All my friends used to sit by the campfire and play the guitar, and every time he came out with a new album … I learned all the music,” said David.
For many, Lightfoot's music was the soundtrack of their youth.
“I grew up with it. I grew up singing to it, and my brother’s first guitar tunes were Gordon Lightfoot,” said Lisa Langill, who came down from the Muskoka area. “So we thought we’d come down. How can you not?”
Lightfoot’s longtime bassist credits the late musician with putting Orillia on the map, and remaining humble despite his fame.
“I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that Gordon Lightfoot put Orillia on the map, and he's also been a great supporter of Orillia as a philanthropist,” said Rick Haynes.
“He was a humble man considering his fame,” Haynes said. “He was very engaging, he was very caring, and he really had time for everyone. He really did.”
The visitation continues until 8 p.m. this evening. A private funeral will be held next week in Orillia.
We'll have more on the visitation and more reaction to the death of a legend later today.