A Poet Laureate for Ontario in memory of Gord Downie

Ontario’s Legislature has created the first-ever post of Poet Laureate for the province of Ontario. The Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), also referred to as the “Gord Downie bill,” honours the late poet and lead singer of popular Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, who passed away in October 2017.

The appointment of Ontario’s first Poet Laureate is expected by late fall 2020.

Requirements of Ontario’s Poet Laureate

Who can become Ontario’s Poet Laureate?

The Poet Laureate’s main residence must be in Ontario. They must have lived in Ontario for at least six months of the past year.

They must have published at least one volume of poetry within the last 10 years or be able to show that their work over the years has brought honour to their self and to Ontario.

How does someone become Ontario’s Poet Laureate?

The Poet Laureate is selected by a panel that includes:

  • the Speaker
  • the Ontario Legislative Librarian
  • two members of the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts who have knowledge of literary activity in Ontario
  • the current Poet Laureate, if any

The Poet Laureate can also be appointed by the House if there is a unanimous vote by all MPPs present during the vote.

How long can someone be Ontario’s Poet Laureate?

The term of office is two years, or until a successor is appointed.

What does the Poet Laureate do?

The Poet Laureate's responsibilities are to:

  • promote art and literacy in Ontario
  • celebrate Ontario and its people
  • raise the profile of Ontario poets
  • raise public awareness of poetry and of the spoken word
  • act as a spokesperson for literature in general and poetry in particular
  • provide a focal point for the expression of Ontario culture and heritage through the literary arts

Some of the activities the Poet Laureate may be involved with include:

  • writing poetry, occasionally for use in the Legislature if called upon by the Speaker or the Lieutenant Governor
  • visiting schools, presenting or arranging poetry readings and assisting with writing workshops or other activities
  • advising the Legislative Library regarding the collection of the Library and acquisitions that may enrich its cultural holdings

What people are saying

“The literary arts underpin our country's cultural life. Appointing a Poet Laureate of Ontario will enrich our appreciation of poetry and the importance of the written word.”

–Ted Arnott, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario

From second reading of Bill 6, Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), September 20, 2018

“This bill is intended to keep alive the memory of Gord Downie. It’s intended to recognize his contribution to Canadian literature. It’s offered in a non-partisan fashion, in a symbolic way of paying tribute to Gord Downie.”

–Percy Hatfield, MPP

“I’m happy to add my support for this private member’s bill and the creation of the poet laureate of Ontario. An Ontario Poet Laureate position would help promote arts and literacy in the province of Ontario and be an appropriate commemoration of Mr. Downie.”

–Sylvia Jones, MPP

“The position of poet laureate is one that carries with it great prestige. It is one that honours both the work of all poetry and spoken word in Ontario and one that honours a single person. I believe it is one that the province should provide and that the province should honour with the name of Gord Downie.”

–Ian Arthur, MPP

“Although everyone anticipated the end of [Gord Downie’s] journey, his loss at 53 years of age caused an emotional groundswell across the nation, especially in Ontario, his home province. It is therefore appropriate that his name be included in the legislation, a fitting testament to his abilities as a poet and to his commitment to helping communities in Ontario and across Canada."

–Lorne Coe, MPP

From third reading of Bill 6, Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), December 12, 2019

“When asked once about his book of poems, Gord Downie said, ‘I think it would be cool if Coke Machine Glow means more people will go into the poetry section of the bookstore ... I just want people to buy more poetry. Poetry characterizes a nation....’”

–Percy Hatfield, MPP