The Tragically Hip’s “Wheat Kings” Lyrics Meaning  

The Tragically Hip is a band from Canada that is known to deal with serious, true-to-life and sometimes dark subject matter in their songs. And in the case of “Wheat Kings”, the subject is one David Milgaard.

Poor David Milgaard

His may not be a name you recognize, especially if you aren’t from up north. But to make a long short, Milgaard spent 23 years locked down, since the time he was 17 years old, on a murder/rape conviction, even though he didn’t commit the crime nor was involved in it in any way, shape or form. 

And to make matters worse, it was a situation such that throughout those years, numerous attempts were made to get him out of prison since the trail that sent him to prison had issues. Indeed, it got to a point where The Tragically Hip themselves got involved in the cause. And by the looks of things it was shortly thereafter, in 1992, when Milgaard was eventually released, thus prompting them to drop this track.S

Song’s Title (“Wheat Kings”)

Meanwhile, the title of this song actually serves as an indirect shoutout to a part of Canada known as Saskatchewan. The title reads, in full in the chorus, “wheat kings and pretty things, let’s just see what the morning brings”. And such can be taken as an expression of sarcasm considering that Saskatchewan – or more specifically a city therein called Saskatoon – was where Milgaard was accused of committing the aforenoted crime.

Song’s Moral?

If there is a moral to this song, that would be in the fourth verse where David, upon being freed, is advised ‘not to live in the past’. All things considered that may sound like a sarcastic statement itself, but those who were familiar with his case knew he didn’t recuperate just like that, even after scoring a large settlement from the Canadian government. But still, the general feel of the lyrics is that Milgaard attaining his freedom was a cause for celebration.


Going back to the chorus and the sarcasm found therein, what it appears the vocalist is saying, conclusively, is if something like that, i.e. a man being locked down for decades on flimsy evidence, happened in Saskatchewan once, then it can happen again. So in that regard this song can be taken as a warning to be on your Ps and Qs when you’re in that part of Canada, and also for the powers that be therein, i.e. the “wheat kings”, to be more mindful when administering justice since now, through this song, the world is watching.

The Tragically Hip, "Wheat Kings" Lyrics
Gord Downie explains the meaning of "Wheat Kings"

The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip is no more – unfortunately some would say – since the passing of the group’s co-founder and lead vocalist, Gord Downie, in 2017. But throughout the decades and since 1986, the band’s lineup had stayed the same, consisting of, alongside Downie:

  • guitarist Rob Baker
  • guitarist Paul Langlois
  • bassist Gord Sinclair
  • drummer Johnny Fay

When was “Wheat Kings” released?

This track is from The Tragically Hip’s third studio album, a project that MCA Records put out on 6 October 1992 titled “Fully Completely”.

Who wrote “Wheat Kings”?

“Wheat Kings” was written by the entire Tragically Hip crew, with the track’s producer being the late Chris Tsangarides (1956-2018).

David Milgaard

Milgaard himself eventually passed away on 15 May 2022, the day before the writing of this post. He lived to be 69 years old and at least was able to spend the last 30 years of his life a free man, starting a family and all. After his release, he also worked on the behalf of others who were wrongfully convicted.

Wheat Kings

The “Fully Completely” Album

Tragically Hip, a Canadian hip hop band from Kingston, Ontario, released the album, “Fully Completely” in 1992. It was released as the band’s 3rd studio album.

The rock album was recorded at the Battery Studios, a recording studio located in the English capital, London. It was produced by British sound engineer/record producer, Chris Tsangarides. The public officially got access to the album through American media company, MCA.

“Fully Completely” was a commercial and critical success. In the band’s home country, Canada, it peaked at No. 1 on the RPM chart. It ended up receiving a diamond certification from Music Canada in January of 2007.

On a list of the best 102 modern rock albums by Canadian radio station, 102.1 The Edge, the album was placed at No. 9.

It ranked fifth in Bob Mersereau’s book, “The Top 100 Canadian Albums”, published in 2007.

In 1993, the band organized the “Another Roadside Attraction” festival as a means of promoting the album. The festival was not only a tool for the promotion of their album, it also gave smaller bands some exposure as they toured Canada.

In 2014, a re-issue was made available to the public. This version contained a live performance by the band at Horseshoe Tavern in September of 1992.

1 Response

  1. Karen Saubak says:

    Totally moved by this story and saddened by the passing of this great man; whom endured so much in his “life”. I work for Correctional Service Canada and blown away by the miscarriage of justice for David Milgaard. I’m old enough to remember when this happened. Truly saddened by his passing.

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