For hockey fans, it is an anthem. Not the anthems people quietly stand for, waiting for the game to begin, but the anthem that gets everyone going – hands clapping, feet, of course, stompin.' The Hockey Song, Stompin' Tom Connors's gift to Canada's national sport, was a sure-fire way to fire up a crowd, even when the home team was behind, and the fans were getting anxious.
The song took on new resonance Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, as The Hockey Song played, followed by an announcement: Stompin' Tom Connors was dead. The Canadian folk music legend died Wednesday. He was 77.
"We have lost a true Canadian original," Prime Minister Stephen Harper – a hockey fan who is writing a book about the sport – tweeted. "R.I.P. Stompin' Tom Connors. You played the best game that could be played."
Charles Thomas Connors was born Feb. 9, 1936, in Saint John, N.B. His childhood was harsh: He was put in a foster home, adopted by a family in Skinner's Pond, PEI, and left home at 15.
According to legend, his musical career was launched in the 1960s, when he was a nickel short of a beer at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ont. The bartender agreed to give him a drink if he would play a few songs. He stuck around for more than a year.
His first hit, Bud the Spud, set the tone: Stompin' Tom loved Canada, and he was going to sing about it. Many other Canadiana folk hits followed: Canada Day, Up Canada Way, Big Joe Mufferaw, Sudbury Saturday Night, with its quintessentially Canadian chorus: "The girls are out to bingo and the boys are getting' stinko. And we'll think no more of Inco on a Sudbury Saturday night."
Mr. Connors recorded 61 albums, according to his website, 10 of which have yet to be released to the public.
He remained fiercely patriotic, deriding Canadians who moved to the U.S. as "border jumpers." He received the Order of Canada in 1996, and was the subject of a postage stamp in 2009. On Wednesday, as word spread of his death – from natural causes, a spokesman said – there were demands on social media for a state funeral, and for flags to be lowered to half-mast.
Twitter lit up with the news late Wednesday, with tweeted lyrics and tributes from politicians, musicians, sports figures, and fans – everyone from Peter Mansbridge to Theo Fleury to one of the Trailer Park Boys.
"Stompin' Tom Connors changed my life," wrote musician and author Dave Bidini. "I owe him a great great debt. We all do, as proud Canadians. We won't see his like again."
From D.O.A. lead singer Joe Keithley: "Stompin' Tom has left the arena. … A man with a big heart and a big love for Canada."
He sang of maple trees, wheat fields growing tall, the Leamington tomato, New Brunswick's famed reversing falls. In Canada, as he sang, we get to see them all.
In a message posted on his website, Mr. Connors said: "It was a long hard bumpy road. But this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world."
He leaves behind his wife, Lena – whom he famously married on the TV show Elwood Glover's Luncheon Date – four children and several grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is planned for March 13 at 7 p.m. at the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ont. At his request, it will be open to the public.
In lieu of flowers, Connors' family has asked that donations be made to local food banks or homeless shelters, in memory of the musician.
With reports from Canadian Press