More than 1,000 fans attended a public visitation Sunday in Gordon Lightfoot’s hometown in central Ontario to say goodbye to the folk singer-songwriter.
In the pouring rain, a line stretched down the street outside St. Paul’s United Church in Orillia, Ont., where Lightfoot once sang as a choir boy.
Inside, each person had a moment with the late musical legend as the line slowly passed by his closed casket. It was adorned with a large bouquet of red roses, as well as a single pink one.
Within the bouquet, a card handwritten by his widow, Kim Lightfoot, read: “My heart’s treasure.” For the first hour, she greeted visitors near where they entered the building.
Throughout the visitation, which is to run until 8 p.m. Sunday, a continuous flow of Lightfoot’s songs played over the sound system.
Two hours after it began, security for the event estimated nearly 1,700 people had gone through the church.
Steve Porter and his wife, Diane Porter, were first in line at the church at 10:30 a.m., two and a half hours before the doors opened. Not knowing how big the crowds would be, they wanted to be there early to pay their respects.
“I feel like I’m honouring Gord in my own little way,” he said while standing in line.
“I’m representing my family and my ancestors who are all gone and who loved him dearly.”
Myeengun Henry travelled from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation near London, Ont, with a gift of tobacco to honour Lightfoot. He also carried an eagle feather in hand, which he said was a symbolic gesture of the highest-flying bird.
“It can see the farthest and I kind of relate that to Gord,” he said.
“He could see things other people couldn’t and the eagle feather is perfect for thinking about Gord … (He) sent the truth to many people and so I have so much respect for his legacy.”
Antonette Dinovo and her husband, Vince Dinovo, travelled a couple of hours from Markham, Ont., outside of Toronto.
Antonette said they planned to walk through nearby Mariposa, home of the music festival where Lightfoot often performed.
“I think it’s important to be here today,” she said. “It represents the loss we feel and a celebration.”
Many local establishments took those sentiments to heart. Several bars and one of the local record stores planned to recognize Lightfoot’s influence through live music performances this weekend.
David LaBute, who drove four hours from Windsor, Ont., for the weekend with his friend, said the spirit of Lightfoot could be felt in the streets of the city.
“There are tributes all over the place,” he said. “It’s really nice to see a town take ownership of one of their own.”
Lightfoot’s bassist, Rick Haynes, who had worked with the musician for 55 years, said the outpouring of emotion from visitors “means a lot to the family and a lot to me, personally.”
“I think he would be humbled by it … because he loved the community and he loved his fans,” he said inside the church.
“Gordon was the best. There are a lot of great songwriters out there, I don’t think any of them are better than Gordon.”
At 2 p.m., church bells at St. Paul’s rang 30 times, 29 for the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald and once in honour of Lightfoot. It was one of the many tributes to Lightfoot in Orillia since his death on May 1.
On Saturday, a previously planned concert tribute to his career at the Orillia Opera House became a celebration of his life and career.
Elsewhere, a book of condolences can also be signed at Toronto’s Massey Hall, a venue where Lightfoot frequently performed throughout his career. It’s to be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A private funeral is to take place Monday in Orillia, where Lightfoot is to be buried alongside his parents.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2023.