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Tuesday, June 20, 2000

'I wish I could sing this to you'

Stompin' Tom Connors, the legendary country singer, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Toronto yesterday. It was his second such degree, the first coming in 1996 from St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, his native province. What follows is an edited transcript of the impromptu speech Stompin' Tom gave at Convocation Hall following the presentation ceremony.

Thank you. It's not my first time in front of an audience, of course, but the first time in front of this kind of an audience. I didn't bring my guitar. I don't know too much about these kind of speeches, so I kind of wish I had so I could sing it to you.

First of all, I would like, being as how I have the opportunity here, to congratulate all of the young people who have received a degree today and will receive one.

I don't know of the hard work, of course, that you have put into your studies and all of that kind of thing, because the university that I came from is a little one-room school in Skinner's Pond, Prince Edward Island. It is still standing there. We had one teacher and eight grades. They didn't have any degrees or anything but I thought maybe some day if nothing ever happens to me I'll turn around and buy the school. So, when they were going to tear it down, I bought for a buck. So now I own it today. So if you're ever down at Skinner's Pond, PEI, drop in and see a couple of pictures and buy a couple of albums or something.

Speaking about albums, as I say I started out playing the clubs way up in Timmins, Ont. I see some of my friends that were in there at that time. There was a newspaper man there. He used to come in and quaff a few down each evening and he is down here today. [Pointing to someone in the audience] How are you there, John?

And so this is quite a come-around for me as the circle turns. From the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins I started moving south a little bit, mainly because there was a bunch of exchange teachers that came over. They had been teaching abroad and they were in an exchange program with people over in Germany. And they were in the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins. And I was there doing a single and banging my foot on the stage and they were looking at me in kind of a weird way. Finally, they asked one of the waiters in the hotel, "Buy that guy a beer; we want to talk to him."

So I come off the stage, they gave me the beer and the questions started. They said, "First off, we were over in Germany and everybody invited us out. They were great people over there. They played accordions and they sang all kinds of German songs. And as guests they asked us to sing them some of our Canadian songs. And we all looked at one another and we couldn't think of a song to sing."

So the only thing they could sing was O Canada. Then they came into the Maple Leaf Hotel and here was a guy singing all kinds of songs about potatoes in P.E.I. and mountains in British Columbia. Everything about Canada. And they wished they had a guy like me along with them to play for these German people.

So they said, "You know, you should go down to Toronto sometime and maybe you can get a recording contract because we never heard anything like this before. It would be great if we only had of known some of those songs. And maybe somebody else someday, if you record them, [will] be able to sing them and when they go to Germany."

And I said, "Well, thank you very much." And I started writing more and more and more. And then I started bringing the disease further south from Timmins until I got to [Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern]. And I know there are a few people here this afternoon who have probably been down there before. And a few people right over here, too [gesturing at academic officials behind him]. So don't think that they're exempt from this.

We packed the place and everybody was singing and hooting and banging their feet and having one hell of a time. And what was I singing? The same songs. And of course when I go out on tours I sing a 100% Canadian show all the way. So if you're ever out there don't forget the kind of music you're going to hear because I don't know any different now. I have forgotten all of the old songs that I used to know about the United States and those places.

But anyway, here I am. I just want to finish off by saying thank you, thank you very much everybody. My problem is once I get in front of a microphone it is pretty hard to get me away, so somebody will have to tug on this robe or something.

I planned on making up a speech, and I planned on doing a whole lot of things. The words wouldn't come. I guess I have got to be in front of a mic before I can think of anything. But I would like to say that it is wonderful that the University of Toronto would give a fellow like me a degree like this.

I'll tell you why: The way I was brought up there was very little opportunity for education or even a good job or anything else. There are an awful lot of people out there in the country today who have been brought up the very same way as I have and maybe they haven't had quite the opportunities that a lot of folks in this room today have had.

I hope you really appreciate it because it's probably nicer to get a degree the way that you folks are getting it. That's the way to do it. But at the same time, I hope that the people of my ilk will see what's happening here to me today and they will say to themselves, "If Stompin' Tom can do it, we can do it too."

Thank you very much.

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