He agreed to accept the Order of Canada in 1996 and to have his image printed on a postage stamp in 2009, but there were some concessions he wouldn’t make: Taking off his hat was one of them. When former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson invited him to lunch with the Queen at Rideau Hall during a royal visit in October, 2002, he said he would be happy to attend, but not if it meant arriving bare-headed.
The guest list included 50 celebrated Canadians, one for each year of Her Majesty’s reign, with Mr. Connors representing 1971. There was a flurry of messages back and forth between Ottawa and London to find a diplomatic solution to the protocol dilemma posed by a subject refusing to remove his hat in the presence of his monarch, according to Mr. Edwards, his manager. Buckingham Palace smoothed the way by likening Mr. Connors’s black Stetson to a religious headdress such as a nun’s habit or a Sikh’s turban. Even Mr. Edwards, who has been a friend for more than 40 years, rarely saw Mr. Connors without his trademark black hat. When pressed, he allowed that Mr. Connors was thinning on top, but was definitely not bald.
Late in his career, Mr. Connors connected with the quintessential Canadian audience: hockey fans. “Oh, the good old hockey game/ Is the best game you can name,” runs the chorus of The Hockey Song, which became an unofficial anthem for the Ottawa Senators and, later, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It served a different and more sombre purpose at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday evening: breaking the news that Mr. Connors had died. Among the first to tweet their condolences was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fervent hockey fan. “We have lost a true Canadian original. R.I.P. Stompin’ Tom Connors. You played the best game that could be played.” Not even the opposition parties could argue with that statement.
Charles Thomas Connors was born on Feb. 9, 1936, in Saint John, N.B. His birth certificate listed his teenaged mother’s name as Isobel Connors and his father as “unknown.” Years later, he met his father, Thomas Joseph Sullivan and learned why his parents hadn’t married. She was Catholic and he was Protestant, a formidable barrier in those days. When Mr. Connors fell in love, he made certain to marry his girlfriend, Lena Welsh, another Maritimer. And just so everybody knew, the couple made their vows in 1973 on Luncheon Date, the popular television show hosted by the late Elwood Glover. Forty years later, she was by his side when he breathed his last.
Stompin’ Tom Connors is survived by his wife, Lena, four children and several grandchildren.
With files from James Adams