We Canadians often root for the underdog. Many of our Canadian folk heroes aren’t necessarily what modern society would call “celebrity worthy”. They don’t look or act like the Kardashians, have money like the Trumps or talk to chairs like Clint Eastwood. Yes, we gave the world Paul Anka, Michael Buble, The Biebs, Sarah McLachlan, Shania Twain, Chantal Kreviazuk, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado et al. But we also gave the world Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, Randy Bachman, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Jan Arden, k.d. Lang, Tommy Hunter et al; in other words, people who don’t necessarily fall into the norm of “celebrity” but still work at their craft and do it very well.
In the last month or so Canada has lost two of it’s greatest musical icons. Thomas Charles “Stompin’ Tom” Connors passed away March 6 at age 77. Tom was one of Canada’s well-known country and folk singer-songwriters who got his professional moniker because he always liked to stomp one foot while he was singing and playing his guitar. Stompin’ Tom wrote and sang the typically Canadian songs “Bud the Spud”, “The Hockey Song” and “Sudbury Saturday Night” among others. Many of the younger generation might not have known who he was as demonstrated by this blog post but they’d probably heard some of his songs along the way. Like this one:
In true Stompin’ Tom fashion he planned his own memorial that took place on March 13th at the Peterborough Memorial Centre. He chose the venue for the party and assembled a list of performers and speakers. The list included a former hockey player that is now a politician, Canadian singers and a former Governor General. Stompin’ Tom was called “Nationalistic to the point of being a curmudgeon”, but sometimes that is the type of person we Canadians need to be.
Another Canadian icon, Rita MacNeil passed away April 16 at age 68 from post-surgical complications. Like Tom, Rita was from the Maritimes and was a beloved figure in Canadian music and culture. Rita had a CBC television variety show, “Rita & Friends,” that ran from 1994 to 1997 and she drew in some big name entertainers to perform on her show. Rita’s Tea Room and Gift Shop opened in 1986, she bought a one-room schoolhouse in Big Pond, Cape Breton Nova Scotia because she was always inviting people to drop by for tea and thought she might as well have a tea shop of her own.
Rita began singing publicly in the 1970’s at rallies, demonstrations or meetings that she attended for the women’s movement. Her big break didn’t come until she was in her 40’s in 1987. Her music is about love of home and family, rising above life’s trials and the men and women across Canada and is a mixture of folk, country, blues, roots, Celtic and rock.
The announcement of her death on her website included this passage:
“A mother to Laura (Dana) and Wade (Lori), a grandmother, a dear friend, and a sister, Rita was a Canadian icon — a woman who had a dream that became a reality — who brought joy and inspiration to so many.
‘And you never let the hard times
Take away your soul
And you stopped the tears from falling
As you watched the young ones go
You’re as peaceful as a clear day
You’re as rugged as the seas
I caress you, oh, Cape Breton, in my dreams.’ ”
Rest in Peace Rita, you know you’re a Canadian icon when Stompin’ Tom writes a song about you.