November 4, 1995

Captain Canada speaks his mind
Stompin' Tom stands by nation

Singer Stompin' Tom Connors is relieved about the results of the referendum. "Canada is still my home," he was telling me yesterday over a celebratory Moosehead or two, "and the people in it are my extended family."

The ultra-Canuck credits his perspective - "far more nationalist than provincialist" - to years of coast-to-coasting.

"Everyone should travel, and then they would feel less isolated. See the majesty of the British Columbia mountains and they'd be going, `Hey, I'm giving this up?' Yes voters don't know what they'd be missing. Luckily they still have as much right to be there or in P.E.I. as anyone."

He has asserted that Canada is "the one and only democratic country in the world that would even allow such a referendum ... " And had the separatists been successful, "you can bet your boots nobody else in this new country of Quebec would be allowed to even mention the word `separate'."

The passion and perseverance that have made him our premier protest singer remains evident on a new album called Long Gone To The Yukon, his 19th set of original songs. And he is exposing the unlikely roots of his patriotism in a new memoir called Before The Fame (Viking, $30).

An astonishing 84 pages are devoted to his vivid memories of times before he turned five, and his mom 21.

His was a childhood of squalor, violence and neglect, but he reports it without resentment, and he hopes his mom, still living in Montreal, "will be pleased. She can be a little fiery."

There followed such events as diphtheria, drowning, concussions and mom-and-kids time in jail, but he recounts it all without melodrama.

Not until he is sent off to an orphanage he describes as "a prisoner of war camp without guns or watchtowers" does some real loathing start to leak from him. It may seem to be aimed at the nuns who had his life in their hands and abused it, and to the mother who `adopted' him for economic purposes, but he really blames the system.

"I don't think there's anybody I don't like. I may not like your belief. I may not like what you do. But I'll find something about you to like - it's no good the other way."

Not until the last 20 pages does he become Stompin' Tom.

He plans for the famous part of the life to date to be another 500-page volume next fall.

It too will concentrate on faith and friendship. "I'm a fatalist, as the heart of the book says, but in the sequel I'll make a distinction between what I know and what I believe."

If he ever gets around to revealing his love life, it will be decades in the future. If he can't get away with telling the whole truth about something, he says, he won't tell anything about it.

Son Tommy is in college, taking business. Dad admits recurring temptation to say, `When I was your age ...'

"He doesn't want to be a singer, to my chagrin sometimes. I know he's got the talent - I've seen him play around with a guitar. But he knows it can be a tough row to hoe, and he doesn't really know that for him it can be entirely different."

How else does his own creativity find an outlet?

"After I retired from the business and told them where to stick their Junos," he says he put together a perpetual calendar. "I like to know if a date in history was on a Sunday or a Tuesday." He also patented Codamania, a board game of competitive code-cracking. But we'll have to wait for both and other ideas until his marketing energy catches up with his restless imagination.

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