Mike Downie

Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker | Co-Founder, Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund

Mike Downie is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker and the co-founder of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. A celebrated and inspirational storyteller, Downie takes his audiences on a ride that explores how our stories define us, remind us of our past, and shape our future, both as individuals and as a nation.

Downie shares memories from growing up in a small town, leaving home to work in a mine, and watching his brother — celebrated musician Gord Downie — rise to fame, to travelling the world and directing award-winning documentary films.

One story in particular has been life-changing for Downie — Chanie Wenjack, an Ojibway boy who died while running away from his residential school. Downie told the tragic tale to his brother Gord and the two vowed to find a way to share this story with the world. The result was the multi-media project Secret Path that has captured the hearts and minds of Canadians across the country.

Downie is a writer, director, and producer of numerous award-winning documentaries including Secret Path, Invasion of the Brain Snatchers, One Ocean, and The Hockey Nomad. His most recent project, The Covid Cruise, told the February 2020 story of the Diamond Princess cruise ship as it became a microcosm of the coronavirus pandemic in the early days of the global crisis.

Before his career in film and television, Downie worked as a deep shaft miner in Northern Ontario; a medical researcher at McGill University; a junior economist in Toronto; and as a windsurfing instructor in the US Virgin Islands. He holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours from Queen’s University, and an MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business.

“Gord and I spent our lives learning, again and again, the power in a story, everyone’s story.”

Telling Canada’s Story

As a documentary filmmaker, Mike Downie has had the chance to hear many awesome, inspiring, and unique stories from his fellow Canadians. However, Canadians are a funny lot — they don’t like to boast, don’t like to toot their own horn. Sorry, but we need to drop that kind of modesty and for good reason — the world really needs our stories right now.

Countries all over the world are falling prey to the politics of fear and ignorance but that trend hasn’t taken root here. Today, our national story is one of prosperity, diversity, and tolerance as a young, multicultural generation pushes our country to new heights.

In 2018, Canada ranked as the eighth most prosperous country in the world, not bad eh? Canada ranked high in areas like business and governance but we really kicked ass in a category called “personal freedom”. Out of 146 countries, when it comes to basic legal rights, individual liberties, and social tolerance, Canada was #1. We’re #1, we’re #1… sorry but this bragging thing is hard to get the hang of.

Our country is changing before our eyes and for the better — first and second-generation immigrants are now 40% of the population, and in Vancouver and Toronto, it’s over two-thirds. We happily admit more than 300,000 immigrants a year, 1% of the population — more than any other big, rich country — and we’ve been doing this for decades. These families and their children tend to integrate quickly and Downie thinks it’s because they fundamentally believe in this thing called Canada.

However, we also need to admit that we’ve created third world living conditions for the Indigenous inside our own borders. There’s an opportunity to build a country that’s progressive, but also built upon thousands of years of human history that creates a relational harmony between our aspirations and the natural environment around us.

Downie and his brother Gord always believed in this country, loved it. Gord wrote songs about our “unplucked gems” — our people and places — and instilled a “humble patriotism” in many Canadians. This new generation however is different. They aren’t as apologetic, sorry — they just aren’t. They expect more from their country and their employers. They want purpose in their lives, and a sense that they’re making the world a better place.

Downie will share stories of hope to remind his audience of the passion and promise that this country has to offer and leave them with a vision of what this country could be one day.

What's Your Story?

From growing up in a small town outside Kingston, Mike Downie — the older brother to Tragically Hip frontman, Gord Downie — draws on his rich family history to show the unique ways stories define our lives, connect us with our past, and impact our future.

Although Downie and his younger brother Gord had very different careers, their work both intersected with storytelling. Both criss-crossed Canada, and circled the globe, meeting new people wherever they went and hearing their unique stories, while adding to their own. For Downie, those tales became part of his documentaries; for his brother, some of those stories became songs.

In his multimedia keynote, Downie shares his unique life story, as well as four other profound stories in which ordinary people do extraordinary things, to inspire his audiences with the message that everyone, including those from humble origins, can have a profound impact on the world.

“You may not know it yet,” Downie says, “but when you realize that your life is a story that you consciously choose to write and tell everyday, you empower yourself to positively influence the lives of the people you cross paths with at work, home, and play.”

Audience members will leave motivated to develop the skills to tell their own unique story, their organization’s story, and perhaps even a previously overlooked piece of our country’s story.

Secret Path

When Mike Downie first heard the story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, it was like an arrow shot through his heart. Haunted by the story, he and his brother, musician Gord Downie, vowed to find a way to tell it to the world. The result was their multi-media project, consisting of a music album and a graphic novel and film (with artist Jeff Lemire), that has captured the hearts and minds of Canadians across the country.

Using Chanie’s story as a starting point, Downie takes audiences through the dark chapter of residential schools in Canada, and helps people to understand the importance of reconciliation with history and the need for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to come together.

Downie also explains his own journey on the “path”, explaining how undertaking the project has transformed him, and that “life’s most important moments are never a choice — they’re a force pushing you, and when you learn to trust the invisible hand on the small of your back, it will guide you into the great unknown.”