When I heard Stompin’ Tom Connors had passed, it took me a moment to register the news before memories of a music legend, who has been a soundtrack for some of the best, most memorable moments in our family’s life, came flooding in.
One of my favorite Stompin’ Tom experiences was seeing him perform live in Peterborough in 1997. The Carpenter and I scrounged up the funds to go and it was worth it. The show was like a giant kitchen party for thousands with a crowd waving Canadian flags and singing along. Some people were moved to tears, caught up in the patriotism of it all. It was music for everyone and everyone was there, from farmers to students, auto workers to office managers, the very young to the very old.
On our wedding day, a definite highlight for the Carpenter and I was the playing of The Hockey Song right after our wedding song. We threw hockey jerseys on over our formal attire (I wore the Maple Leafs #17 and the Carpenter wore Colorado #19), and we took a spin on the dance floor together. The Leafs beat the Canadiens that night. It was no mistake.
The first storybooks my kids can remember are Bud The Spud and Hockey Night Tonight, which, of course, I didn’t read but sang to them nightly in my own off-key rendition. The books arrived in the mail from the children’s favourite aunties who live on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Stompin’ Tom’s words travelled across the provinces because they meant as much to us in Wellington County as they did to them in Maitland County, Nova Scotia.
Car trips were a family sing-along experience of Canadiana, with Stompin’ Tom on the iPod. There is nothing like driving over the Confederation Bridge singing his song about it, or passing a landmark made famous in his lyrics. En route to London along the 401, the Carpenter and I passed the sign for Tillsonburg and we both started to sing in our lowest vocal range, “My back still aches when I hear that word…” What does either of us know of picking tobacco? We know enough, because Stompin’ Tom told us about it and the lesson stuck.
We connect to our history through Stompin’ Tom’s songs. You don’t have to be a miner to feel the heartbreak in Fire in the Mine. I bet you learned about the Black Donnellys and got the same chill up your spin that I did.
The warmth of his humble songs are quintessentially Canadian, as is his humour. From Big Joe Mufferaw we can locate Mattawa and explain the Rideau Canal.
We all know what happens when a PEI potato meets a Leamington tomato. We could easily tell the time on Margo’s cowsy dungsy clock and we know the real cultural identity of the man on the moon. Now, what I wouldn’t do for a turn or two on the dance floor of the Ballinafad Ball.
Stompin’ Tom Connors reminds us of a Canada that we’re losing with a culture that is evolving.
I hope his voice will continue to connect us to where we’ve come from so that we have a clearer sense of where we want to go together.
He was a character alright – he was our nation’s character – and we’re better off for it.
Writing has been my passion since I learned how to hold a pencil (which I still cannot do properly). Despite my father’s insistence that I would starve to death in this career, I remain well fed and eager to write more. They say you should do what you love: I love to write.