Trent's Wenjack Theatre Is Named After Chanie Wenjack Who Inspired Gord Downie's New Solo Project

Chanie (aka Charlie—miscalled that by his teachers) Wenjack, the subject of Gord Downie's new solo project "Secret Path" which has brought national attention to his story, actually has a theatre named after him.

Indeed, The Wenjack Theatre at Trent University in Peterborough—Trent's largest lecture hall and part of Otonabee College—was named after him in the early Seventies.

The Canadian Encyclopedia writes that "Indigenous students and members of Trent University’s Native Studies department lobbied for the university to name its newly built college after Wenjack. Ultimately, a theatre in the college was named 'Wenjack Theatre.'"

Chanie Wenjack Theatre

Chanie Wenjack Theatre

Wenjack Theatre  after a recent makeover

Wenjack Theatre after a recent makeover

It was Peterborough's Matt Devlin that first brought this connection of the theatre's namesake to our attention in a tweet...

According to a recent Trent release about a Heritage Minute done on Chanie and the naming of the Theatre, "In 1973, when construction began on Otonabee College at Trent, a group of student leaders from the now Indigenous Studies department lobbied for the college to be named in Chanie’s honour. The students saw this dedication as an opportunity for Trent to strengthen its Indigenous Studies program, and establish itself as a force for change, hope, and a positive educational experience. The campaign spearheaded by student leaders led to the memorialization of Charlie through the naming of Trent’s largest lecture hall as the Chanie Wenjack Theatre."

You can watch the powerful Heritage Minute below on Chanie that was released in June and written by Joseph Boyden, a good friend of Downie's...

The cover of graphic novel telling the story of residential school runaway Chanie Wenjack

The cover of graphic novel telling the story of residential school runaway Chanie Wenjack

Downie's multimedia project—a solo album, graphic novel and animated film—tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie, a First Nations boy in Ontario who died in 1966 after running away from a Residential School near Kenora, Ontario.

Chanie was trying to walk home—walking the railroad tracks—to find the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. Chanie died 50 years ago—his death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools—and his story is now well known across Canada because of Downie's project.

As the Secret Path website says, "Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history – the long-supressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system – with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation."

The Secret Path album and book on Chanie will be released October 18 and the film airs on CBC October 23rd. "Chanie haunts me," Downie says. "His story is Canada's story."

Learn more about Gord Downie's project about Chanie Wenjack below in this trailer video...

It was a terrific tribute by Trent University to name their Wenjack Theatre after Chanie over 40 years ago. The significance of that has only been magnified now by Downie's project which is sure to have a lasting impact for generations to come.

—By Neil Morton & Scott Arnold

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