Dr. Stompin’ Tom Connors: A proud Canadian…eh!

When the University of Prince Edward Island conferred to Stompin’ Tom Connors the honourary degree of Doctor of Letters this past May, Islanders stood and stomped their feet – in imitation of his usual foot-stomping while he sings – amid a rising tide of cheers and applause.

It was a fitting tribute to a man without whom many Canadians would have remained unaware of the rich history of everyday people and many of this country’s colourful character and events would have remained unsung.

Armed with an imagination taller than the Rocky Mountains and a wanderlust that has taken him further than a Northern Ontario bush pilot, a guitar, a pair of boots and a knack for writing songs about Canada only begin to describe the man that Canadians have come to know and love as Stompin’ Tom Connors.

His colourful songs – such as Bud the Spud, The Hockey Song, Margo’s Cargo, The Ketchup Song and Gumboot Cloggeroo – have attained legendary status.

After he was born in Saint John, N.B., his younger years were spent living hand-to-mouth with his mother, until he was taken from her and placed in the care of the Children’s Aid.

From there, he was adopted into the Aylward family of Skinner’s Pond, P.E.I., where he lived until he began his hitchhiking career at the age of 15.

Connors traveled to almost every corner of Canada throughout the next 13 years – from the rocky coastline of Newfoundland to the arctic desolation of the Yukon – and a 100,00 points in between. He could rarely be found without his guitar, even when he had a “real” job (which never lasted long), he would still write and sing songs about the people he met and the places he visited.

Scarcity of money during the 1950s and early 1960s may have been a godsend for Connors. When he found himself a nickel short of a beer at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario, one day, the bartender, Gaet Lepine, agreed to give him a beer if he would play a few songs.

These few songs turned into a 13 month contract to play at the hotel, a weekly spot on the CKGB radio station in Timmins, eight 45-RPM recordings and the end of the beginning for Connors.

His recording career picked up in 1969 when he signed with Dominion Records. Over the next two years, he released six original albums, a compilation album and a five-album set of traditional music. He subsequently left Dominion Records to help form Boot Records – a company that would see 10 more original albums by Connors and a myriad of recordings from many other Canadian artists.

The album Gumboot Cloggeroo, released in 1979, would be his last – for a while. In a fit of frustration and disappointment, Connors returned all six of his Juno Awards as a statement of protest against the Americanization of the Canadian music industry. This began his self-imposed exile from the music industry – an industry that would not embrace his homespun and fiercely patriotic brand of music.

Connors has never been a quitter. His dogged persistence and spirit to succeed rose in 1986 with his formation of A-C-T Records - a new label that would record and promote Canadian music. Connors began touring and releasing records again in 1988 and his signing with EMI Canada would eventually allow for the complete re-release of his entire catalogue of music.

He also receive the Order of Canada, an honourary doctorate of laws from St. Thomas University, the key to the city of Peterborough, Ont., and countless other honours.

To date, Connors has put out 45 albums of original material, several children’s books, two autobiographies, a movie, a television series and countless memories for the Canadians that he has touched with his verses of Canada.

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