By John Swartz
The City of Orillia has set up space and time for people to sign a book of condolences for Gordon Lightfoot. Late this afternoon at the Opera House people were filtering in to jot down their memories and sign their names.
One was Mike Howell, former vice principal at ODCVI where Lightfoot went to school.
“I think he gave Canada an amazing soundtrack. I had to do something. He’s given so much to us and so much to me. He had the voice, a true Canadian sound. I think other people have tried, but he’s the one who continued all his life, he kept giving,’ said Howell. “I saw him so many times and he was so good to the City and quite rightly as the favourite son. I just thought he was always delivering for his fans all through the years.”
In retirement Howell runs art classes for the City of Orillia recreation programming.
“I painted him more than once and the character in his face is just astonishing. His music will live on way past him, my kids have listen to his stuff, my grandkids listen to his stuff.”
When asked if he ever discovered something at work that might have a connection to Lightfoot, an old text book with his name in it, or something like that. Howell came up with an instance so unique it would be hard to beat.
“I didn’t find a text book. I did find some graffiti with his name on it once. It was in one of the places you don’t expect. It was a tunnel, a utility tunnel,” Howell said. Lightfoot had signed his name on the wall. “”What was he doing down here?” He was exploring. I don’t think anyone had seen it.””
Mayor Don McIsaac issued a statement Tuesday morning, which accompanied details were people can sign the condolence book:
“Our community is deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Gordon Lightfoot. Mr. Lightfoot was highly regarded in his hometown of Orillia and has had an immense impact on our community. His deep roots in our city are woven into the fabric of Orillia with tributes from the Gordon Lightfoot auditorium stage and his bust at our iconic Orillia Opera House, to the Lightfoot Trail and to the Golden Leaves series of bronze sculptures within J.B. Tudhope Memorial Park.
Many of us who knew him will remember his soft-spoken demeanor, generous personality and infectious laugh.
On behalf of all Orillians, I would like to extend sincere condolences to Gordon Lightfoot’s family, loved ones and friends. Today in Orillia, our community is mourning together along with the rest of the world. We have lowered our flags to half-mast and invite anyone wishing to pay homage to visit the Orillia Opera House to sign the memory book as we celebrate Gordon’s life and the many great contributions he made to our city, country and beyond.”
A group of ladies arrived to pay their respects. Jane Rooyakkers tagged along with friends.
“I didn’t realize it was here. I was told it was here and I loved all his music all my life,” Rooyakkers said.
“(It’s) the soundtrack to my life basically. All of his words, place you were when you heard the songs. I saw him last year at Mariposa and getting the award, so many memories,” said Margie Sider, who also said she thought it was great younger musicians cover Lightfoot’s songs.
“The Edmond Fitzgerald is soulful and meaningful. I loved his music,” said Barb Tudhope. Remarking on sharing the name with the place Lightfoot gave so many performances, she quipped, “He played with my permission.”
“My brother and my uncle all worked on the lakers, so the Edmond Fitzgerald, when I hear that it chokes me up. And I love the music,” said Nereda Rehm.
Outside the Opera House several bouquets of flowers had been left by fans at the base of the bust of Lightfoot by Gino Cavicchioli.
People can sign the book Wednesday at the Opera House from noon to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at City Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.