Monday 24 October 2011

One Nickel Short in the Nickel Belt

Tom Connors found himself one nickel short when he ordered a drink at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario so the owner suggested that he sing a few songs to pay his bill; the singer walked out of the establishment with a 13-month contract that would change his life.  Charles Thomas Connors was born on February 9, 1936 in St. John, New Brunswick to a teenaged mother, Isabel Connors, and a fiddle-playing father, Thomas Sullivan.  Taken away by Children’s Aid after his father abandoned him and his mother was struggling financially, little Tommy was placed in an orphanage.  A Prince Edward Island family later adopted him and worked him like an indentured servant.  At 13 years old, Tom ran away and slowly hitchhiked his way across Canada for the next 13 years, writing songs as he went. 

In the 1960’s, he secured his first long term contract at the Maple Leaf Hotel.  It was at the Timmins establishment on Canada’s 100th birthday that someone nicknamed Mr. Connors,“Stompin” Tom, and it stuck.  He would damage the stage floors so much that restaurant owners would be furious. One patron was quite upset about Tom’s stomping and complained to the manager; rather than stopping, Tom stomped so firmly with his boot on the wooden floor that a wood chip the size of a quarter flew across the room and into the woman’s drink.  Needless to say, he was not the type to appease others. 

Stompin’ Tom went on to write many hits including “Bud the Spud”, “Sudbury Saturday Night” and “The Hockey Song”.  In 1974, he starred in his own TV series titled “Stompin’ Tom’s Canada”.  By 1977, the singer, tired of seeing fellow Canadian entertainers “desert” Canada and move south of the border to work, sent back the Juno’s he had won.  He retired for a decade, but then returned to the spotlight once again.

I attended one of his concerts in the early 1990’s in Hamilton with Rob and his family.  Although jazz and rock have been the two biggest musical influences in my life rather than country and western, what I like about Stompin’ Tom is his ability to tell a story, to weave a tale.  The entertainer has written several songs about Canadian history including:

            1.      Reesor Crossing Tragedy (a 1963 siding strike leading to 3 murders)

2.      Wop May (a bush pilot & World War I flying ace)

3.      The Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down (Ironworkers’ Memorial Second Narrows Crossing Bridge collapse of 1958 causing 19 deaths)

4.      The Curse of the Marc Guylaine (its 2 sister ships sunk in the early 1970’s)

5.      Big Joe Mufferaw (French-Canadian logger)

6.      The Martin Hartwell Story (bush pilot stranded for 31 days)

7.      Algoma Central 69 (Sault Ste. Marie & Hearst historic railway)

8.      The Black Donnelly’s Massacre (vigilante justice in Lucan, Ontario in 1880)

9.      The Last Fatal Duel (Robert Lyon vs. John Wilson duel in 1883 in Perth, Ont.)

10.  Fire in the Mine (39 miners trapped in a Timmins mine)

Stompin’ Tom’s gift for writing lyrics helped him to write an exciting autobiography in 1997 called Stompin’ Tom:  Before the Fame, making him a Canadian bestseller as he sold more than 50,000 copies.  His sense of humour permeates every page.  It is encouraging to see him overcome the adversity of his childhood to find success in adulthood.  Although for many years he was a hard-living man, Stompin’ Tom remains a loyal Canadian with loyal fans. 

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