By Rick Zemanek, Black Press
Years ago, while many Canadians felt they were lacking a sense of identity, Stompin’ Tom Connors was belting out a tune to sell-out crowds about “the boys are getting stinko … on a Sudbury Saturday night.”
There is magic in song. And Stompin’ Tom, with his insightful, down-to-earth lyrics that hit home for many, reminded Canadians they indeed have a sense of identity — and one to be proud of.
Since his death last Wednesday at the age of 77, praises have been overwhelming on what that lanky entertainer with the black cowboy hat, and a stomping left foot that pounded holes in sheets of plywood on stage, meant to Canada.
There’s his famous The Hockey Song that described perfectly, right down to the last note, what hockey meant to its fans — many of which were parents of the baby boomers. They were glued to the TV every Saturday night with the legendary Foster Hewitt electrifying viewers with an enthusiastic play-by-play call of the action. Hearts pounded, and Hewitt was frantic, when the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Eddie Shack went roaring down the ice along the boards on his patented breakaways.
Besides the workers at Inco in the nickel belt of Sudbury, Ont., getting ‘stinko,’ Stompin’ Tom also belted out tunes that painted true-grit living from the East Coast to the West. He sang about the friendly folks struggling to make a living on the East Coast by growing. He stomped across Canada with tunes about the Yukon, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and all the way to the British Columbia Coast.
He reminded us a sense of humour was priceless in life, and taught Canadians there was nothing wrong with laughing at themselves. And indeed they laughed with Stompin’ Tom’s lyrics tugging at their heartstrings. And if there ever was a doubt on a sense of identity, Canucks would say: “Hey, this guy is singing about us.”
He loved Canada, he loved its people and he loved the country’s diversity of multi-cultures.
“He is synonymous with the word ‘Canada’,” said Brian Edwards, president of Rocklands Entertainment, in an Internet report. “He was so popular it was beyond belief.”
Stompin’ Tom’s reputation was so overwhelming that a poll showed 97.6 per cent of Canadians knew who he was, while only 58 per cent knew who the prime minister was.
“Everyone can relate to (his songs),” Edwards said. “From a governor general to steelworkers in Hamilton. It’s such a rarity.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (most Canadians know who his is) tweeted over the Internet: “We have lost a true Canadian original. R.I.P. Stompin’ Tom Connors,” Harper wrote. “You played the best game that could be played.”
Indeed he did; and it was a bumpy skate on dull blades. Born in Saint John, N.B., on Feb. 9, 1936, he was taken from his parents at a young age and raised by foster parents in Skinners Pond, P.E.I., until age 13. His struggles through the early years to survive — living in poverty, orphanages, later riding in boxcars, hitchhiking and working the mines — cultivated his inspirations in song.
Yahoo News reported he was trying to put a Canadian stamp on music. In 1976, a defiant Stompin’ Tom returned all six of his Juno awards to protest the Americanization of the Canadian music industry.
At the time, many Canadian artists (“turncoat Canadians” called by Stompin’ Tom) migrated to the U.S. music scene, yet were nominated for Canada’s Juno awards.
“Gentleman: I am returning herewith the six Juno awards that I once felt honoured to have received and which I am no longer proud to have in my possession,” he wrote to the awards’ board of directors.
“As far as I am concerned, you can give them to the border jumpers who didn’t receive an award this year and maybe you can have them presented by Charley Pride.” He added: “I feel that the Junos should be for people who are living in Canada …”
Stompin’ Tom was fiercely patriotic. He had a big heart and a big love for Canada. If some Canadians still feel they have no sense of identity, they haven’t been listening to Stompin’ Tom who illustrated through song what this country is all about.
With 61 albums to his credit, “He wrote the soundtrack of Canada,” some have said.