Gord Downie began Secret Path as 10 poems incited by the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died 50 years ago on October 22, 1966, in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, walking home to the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. Gord was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled "Charlie" by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams' Maclean's story from February 6, 1967, "The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack."
The stories Gord's poems tell were fleshed into the 10 songs of Secret Path with producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin. Recording took place over two sessions at the Bathouse in Bath, Ontario, November and December 2013. The music features Downie on vocals and guitars, with Drew and Hamelin playing all other instruments, except guest contributions by Charles Spearin (bass), Ohad Benchetrit (lap steel/guitar), Kevin Hearn (piano), and Dave "Billy Ray" Koster (drums).
In winter 2014, Gord and Mike brought the recently finished music to comic artist Jeff Lemire for his help illustrating Chanie's story, bringing him and the many children like him to life. Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada's history – the long-suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system – with the hope of starting the country on a road to reconciliation.
The Deluxe Edition of Gord Downie's Secret Path features the 10 song album on 180g vinyl accompanied by Jeff Lemire's 88-page graphic novel, a set of 10 special lyric posters, digital download and custom box packaging.