Death Can Not Silence the Voice of Canada

Stompin Tom 5x5Earlier this week a Canadian like no other died. The news surprised me; I hadn’t considered his final curtain, simply continued to listen to his music and sing along. I always thought Tom Connors, affectionately known at Stompin’ Tom, would be around forever, making Canadian music for all to enjoy.

I was wrong.

We heard the news in the evening of Wednesday March 6, 2013: Thomas Charles Connors passed away at the age of 77 due to natural causes. During the third period of the Maple Leafs and Senators game at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto, The Hockey Song was played—as usual—with one change: the score board read “1936-2013”. Fans stood, sang along with the familiar tune and stomped their feet.

The school in which Tom attended in Skinner's Pond, Prince Edward Island (2010).
The school in which Tom attended in Skinner’s Pond, Prince Edward Island (2010).

Tom was born in the neighbouring province of New Brunswick on February 9, 1936 to Isabel Connors and her boyfriend Thomas Sullivan. His parents never married, and Tom and his mother move from one place to another. Eventually, Tom was placed in foster care with family at Skinner’s Pond, Prince Edward Island.

The boot on the gable end of the school at Skinner's Pond.
The boot on the gable end of the school at Skinner’s Pond.

At the age of fifteen, he began hiking across this great country, meeting people from all walks of life and working various jobs to get by. These experiences became the bases for hundreds of songs.

Can you name a few: C-A-N-A-D-A , Bud the Spud , Sudbury Saturday Night , Tillsonburg , The Man in the Moon is a Newfie , Blue Nose , The Isle of Newfoundland , Gumboot Cloggeroo and the list goes on and on.

The red dirt road that runs alongside the schoolhouse at Skinner's Pond, a road Tom probably walked a thousand times.
The red dirt road that runs alongside the schoolhouse at Skinner’s Pond, a road Tom probably walked a thousand times.

Since his passing, many ideas have come forward to remember this Canadian voice. Two stand out:

1) To induct Tom into the Hockey Hall of Fame for “The Hockey Song” .

and

2) To scratch the idea of naming the future February holiday “Family Day” and call it “Stompin’ Tom Connors Day”.

I’d vote for both of these. This man must be remembered in many ways to keep future generations educated about his huge contributions to this wonderful country, sea to shining sea.

Tom believed Canadian singers should remain in the country to promote our culture, not head south and sing the praises of the United States. He convictions were so strong that he returned his Juno Awards because he felt the Junos had swayed for the object of honouring Canadian talent, talent that worked and lived in Canada.

I share some of the same feelings as Stompin’ Tom did about Canadian music being Amercanised. Time and again I hear a popular Canadian artist singing songs that praise the country to the south. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but I think it’s important that for every American song they release that they release ten Canadian songs to balance it out.

Not long ago, one of my favourite Canadian artists released an album of older, traditional country music. I bought it and prepared myself to reminisce about music I grew up with through the voice of a relatively new singer.

One track stopped me cold. I actually felt sick to my stomach. Here was a wonderful performer who potentially would have one hit after another—a fellow Nova Scotian—singing about being proud to be an Okie from Muskogee.

What the hell?

How could this beautiful young man, born right here in Nova Scotia, one of the original provinces in the Dominion, sing that he was proud to be an American? I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

It’s not that I don’t love the song; Merle Haggard nails it and I love to sing along, knowing that I’m singing for Merle: he’s proud to be an Okie (even if he wasn’t born there). Not me.

You can hear this talented Canadian artist sing the song on YouTube . I’m not saying he sings it poorly; it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Like road kill that’s been left in the sun too long.

Remember: this guy is Canadian; he was born and raised here as a Bluenoser. He still owns property in New Scotland (aka Nova Scotia).

But back to the purpose of this post: to honour a great man.

The wax figure of Stompin' Tom, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island (2010).
The wax figure of Stompin’ Tom, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island (2010).

I can’t remember the first time I heard Stompin’ Tom; it feels as though he’s always been part of my life. I recall learning the reason behind the wood beneath his feet on stage from my father who also enjoyed listening to his music.

Visit Stompin’ Tom’s website where you can read his final letter to his fans, to his country.

The Chronicle Herald (as well as many newspapers across the country) published an article about Tom’s death: http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/886769-canadian-music-icon-stompin-tom-dies-at-77

The Singer by Stompin Tom

You hear every day how they’re going away

I guess they just don’t understand
The singer is the Voice of the People

and the song is the soul of the land
So singer please stay and don’t go away

there’s so many words to be said
For a land without song can’t stand very long
when the Voice of the People is dead

You may pile up your gold
but the pride of your soul is the small bit of hope
you’ve installed on the children who come this way tomorrow
in search of the right way to go
So singer sing on like the first ray of dawn
and the promise of day just ahead
For a land without song can’t stand very long
When the Voice of the People is dead

Singer you must search for your place on the Earth
and the same for your nation is true
So lift up the soul of your country and a place will be found here for you

But don’t go and run till your song has been sung
and the words from your soul have been said
For a Land without song can’t stand very long
when the Voice of the People is dead

And the Voice of the People is dead and the Voice of the People is dead…

Tipping my hat and raising my glass for you. RIP, Tom. You remind me of what it is to be Canadian. True North. Strong and Free.

~ ** ~

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5 thoughts on “Death Can Not Silence the Voice of Canada

  1. Great piece, Diane. When one thiinks of Canadian singers who made it big, the names of Bryan Adams, Neil Young, Anne Murray, The Guess Who and BTO come to mind. When one thinks of the Canadian sound, the top of the list is Stompin Tom Connors. No others captured the soul of this country like him although a few like Rita MacNeil, Ashley McIssac and JohnAllen Cameron tried to follow in his footsteps. They were just too big to fill. Canadian music will miss him.
    In my own small way, I have tried to live up to his dream by having my books set in Nova Scotia and not some big American city. Nova Scotia can offer everything the rest of the world has to form a background to any story. Embrace it fellow Bluenosers.

    • Thanks, Art. When I think of Canadians like Bryan Adams, Loverboy and April Wine, I don’t think…Canadian. They are simple singers with a song (mind you, I do love their music). A guess they might be considered American songs, but to me they were just rock. I don’t recall any songs by these artists that even mention Canada though I could be wrong. Still, none come to mind.

      Newfoundland artists have done an excellent job promoting their way of life and have a unique sound, but as you mention, no one can top the unique sound of Stompin’ Tom’s Canadian sound. No one is even coming close. The odd singer might have a song or two in their few dozen (such as Alberta Bound by Dean Brody and Clearly Canadian by George Fox (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAc3QtVTOzA), but for the most part, songs about Canada are not sung by famous Canadian singers.

      Like you, I have tried in my own ways to keep Tom’s dream alive. My short stories and the one non-fantasy novel I wrote are set in Nova Scotia (one coming soon set in Newfoundland). Although my fantasy novel takes place in another world, I scoured the Nova Scotia map book for unique names and used Glenelg, Glen Tosh, Tiverton and many more, so in a way, it’s ‘set in Canada’. 🙂

      Like you, I think it’s just as easy to set a story in Nova Scotia as it is to set it in New York, except that so many stories take place in New York that the setting becomes BORING. We should think of Nova Scotia, heck much of Canada (except Toronto–it’s the only place mentioned in some movies) as fresh territory where readers can learn something new and visit places they’ve never been before.

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