Lake Fever references


"...We can take a bit of a breather,
We can skip to the practical part.
We can skip to a time of neither,
When we're together and even when we're apart
I'll tell you a story about Lake Fever or
We can skip to the coital Fury
You didn't say yes, or no, or neither.
You whispered hurry."

"...We can take it a little bit further.
We can stick to the after-effects part.
'Not trying to make you a believer,
don't wanna a lil' piece of your heart.
Just telling you a story about the Lake fever
or we can skip to a neutral fury.
You didn't say yes or no neither.
You whispered, hurry."

Like so many Hip songs, this one's a story within a story. Lake Fever seems to take us for a stroll along a moonlight lake with a pair of young lovers. As the couple walk, the young man: anxious, nervous and eager, begins to fumble for the right words, the right mood, the right move. He begins telling the young girl the story of a great lakes disaster, a tale of lake fever, a cholera outbreak on Lake Ontario.

Throughout the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, contaminated waterways frequently led to outbreaks of various diseases and viruses among the populations of sea side villages and towns. Cholera and typhoid were the most common plagues, and often hit the major cities where drinking water was taken directly and without filtration from the great lakes. In 1832, cholera coursed throughout Upper and Lower Canada, spreading fear and disease through Montreal, Kingston and Toronto.

In Montreal, as in other cities, the newly created board of health began sending carts through the abandoned streets each morning. In the tradition of Europe’s Black Death, their drivers would yell, “bring out your dead:” the source of Gord’s famous adlib during “Poets.” Ironically, of the poor, it was the poets and musicians who suffered most. The minutes of one Quebec City public meeting record: “the group which appears to be hardest hit is the artisans living just above the level of absolute want.”

As our Romeo nervously tells this tale to his young lover, he begins to see in her eyes what he's been looking for. Has his moment arrived? He begins to offer her short cuts, an escape. He offers to skip to the end so that they can engage in "coital fury." However, not wanting to seem too forward, being not quite as sure or confident as he'd like to be, he keeps his overtures in the form of questions: "We can... you know, if you'd like, I can get to the end of the story?"

As he stumbles, fumbles and tumbles through romantic reverence and innocent attempts... she: clinging, close; looks deep into his eyes and whispers: "Hurry."

"...Want to be a nobody without fear
Want to be a thought that's never done
Want to shake your faith in human nature
Want to break the hearts of everyone.

Want to be your wheezing screen door
Want to be your stars of Algonquin
Want to be your roaring floorboard
Want to break the hearts of everyone."

At this point in the song, Paul and Gord trade beautiful verses which seem to recall the overly dramatic commitments we've all made to "the one" at one point or another. The desire to be that persons everything, to be so great as to appear unattainable like the stars yet present and persistent like a wheezing screen door. To be exciting and sought-after in their eyes. Willing to do anything to be with them.

"Algonquin" of course, refers to the idol of the Canadian wilderness, the first of Canada's protected nature reserves: Algonquin Provincial Park.

"...And cause discontent until they,
ceasing their investigation,
bring back the days events,
good citizens and time well spent,
till we're talking in whispers again.

Until we're talking in whispers again."

Great discontent spread through the Canada’s in the aftermath of the outbreak. Sir John Colborne, then second in command as Lieutenant Governor, launched an investigation into the epidemic. In Kingston, public meetings were held, and plans were made in case another outbreak should occur. In 1834 cholera returned, but because of greater preparedness and understanding of the disease, the outbreak was much smaller in scale.

The mayor of Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie ordered the tents and huts on Toronto’s water front removed. The shanties had been serving as both housing for immigrants unable to find lodging, and as unintended ‘dying houses’ for those afflicted with cholera. The mayor wanted to integrate the slum dwellers into the city and eliminate what he called their “worthless and dissipated haunts.” This may be the source of the alternate “Pack up their tents/Jack up their rents” verse Downie sometimes sings during “Lake Fever.”

The song seems to take a reflective view of those events on the lake shore. Seemingly melding the thoughts of our lovers with those of a citizenry from a previous time. Just as the fever, fear and investigations faded; so have the feelings of lust, spontaneity and youth for our young couple. They are now found only in memory.

For the concerned townsfolk of a time since passed, the days events of summer 1832 –the pleas for good citizenship and faint rumours of the macabre– were spoken of in hushed tones. Cholera was thought to be a disease of the unethical and poor, and so was never spoken of aloud or in public. If a family member had died from the disease, they were to be spoken of only in whispers.

For the lovers in modern times; those memories of peaceful, poetic and moving moments along Lake Ontario remain. They represent a time when we talked in whispers, dreamt out loud, and committed ourselves to one another forever.

Gord had this to say during a Toronto show in the summer of 2006: "I know you don't want to hear it, but in 1832 there was a cholera epidemic up and down the lake. Many people died where you stand tonight. And now here's a song about two young people who don't give a shit."

Play Song

Read the full Lake Fever exhibit here.