My Fifty Mission Cap

The Tragically Hip:  My Fifty Mission Cap

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

This is a 50 Mission cap worn by fighter pilots and bomber crews of the British Air Force.   It gained its distressed cachet after much wear and tear.  

"My fifty-mission cap. I worked it in. I worked it in to look like that";

Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman, Bill Barilko scores the winning goal in overtime.  The Leafs won The Stanley Cup over five seasons in 1947, 1948, 1949, and 1951; however, the Barilko goal was the sweetest in 1951.

"The last goal he ever scored (in over time) won the Leafs the Cup"

Bill Barilko suddenly disappeared in 1951 a few months after winning the Stanley Cup.  He had gone on a fishing trip by plane to  Northern Ontario with his friend. 

"Bill Barilko disappeared that summer (1951).  He was on a fishing trip (in a plane)"

The plane crash was discovered 11 years later (in 1962) in the wilderness of Northern Ontario with Bill Barilko's body in the plane.  The mystery was over.  In the same year as the discovery of the plane, the Toronto Maple Leafs won another Stanley Cup after a 11-year drought.   There was much to celebrate. 

"They didn't win another till 1962, the year he was discovered [in a plane crash]."

Canadian kids collected hockey cards of their favourite hockey heroes and traded them with friends.  Lead singer of The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, remembered his card of Bill Barilko and hid it away as a treasure.  The card became like a 50 Mission cap, much worn and adored by him.   Hence, he wrote and performed the song in remembrance of this famous Maple Leaf defenseman. 

Some Toronto Maple Leaf fans still remember Bill Barilko as their favourite hockey hero.

artists:  The Tragically Hip

Songwriters: Gordon Downie, Johnny Fay, Robert Baker, Paul Langlois, Gordon Sinclair

date released:  1993 by the Tragically Hip

What is "a 50 mission cap?"

The song's lyrics and title also reference a military cap, which became known as "a 50 Mission cap" and "crush cap" during World War II. This headwear was just a standard issue military peaked cap, still widely used by modern military forces.  Both fighter pilots and bomber crews wore these. These caps gained patina after much wear. The wire crown stiffener was removed to allow the top of the hat to "crush" so headphones could be worn in the cockpit. The aged and worn look of the cap was thus a status symbol, and according to Downie the intended theme in the lyrics was that junior pilots would work their caps in to look like fifty mission caps, "so as to appear that you had more experience than you really did".

The song's lyrics describe the mysterious disappearance of Bill Barilko, a Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman,  who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Leafs over Montreal Canadiens in the 1951 cup finals.  Four months and five days later, Barilko departed on a fishing trip in a small, single-engine airplane with friend and dentist, Henry Hudson. The plane disappeared between Rupert House and Timmins, Ontario, leaving no trace of Barilko or Hudson. 

Eleven years later, on June 7, 1962, helicopter pilot Ron Boyd discovered the plane wreckage roughly 100 km (62 mi) north of Cochrane, Ontario, about 35 miles off-course. Barilko was finally buried in his hometown of Timmins, the same year that the Maple Leafs won their next Stanley Cup.

Lead singer Gord Downie described the Barilko incident as "an Amelia Earhart story," except everyone's heard of Amelia Earhart.  The song was often played at hockey games because of its rousing intro.