Stompin’ Tom Connors died this week.
And he left an indelible mark on Canadian culture.
Far beyond cultural policy funded by governments, or what the JUNOs reward, or frankly what iTunes views as a success.
Mr. Connors eviserated Canadian culture.
He made it, somehow, real.
Embedded his vision through his music of the many different, yet similar, parts of Canada.
Heard in arenas, homes and schools across this magnificent land.
Not to mention a bar or two along the way.
I have a Stompin’ Tom story to share.
Even though I never met the man.
I first heard his music as the infamous “Sudbury Saturday Nite”.
Because of course I grew up in Sudbury.
The Nickel Capital of the world, until INCO and Falconbridge dissolved into something totally un-Canadian.
Which is why Stompin’ Tom resonates.
But its because of Ottawa that I really connected with him.
In 2008, I organized an arts project for my kids’ elementary school – Robert Hopkins PS in Beacon Hill.
Modelled after a Ukrainian Canadian arts camp called Pokrova.
I’m sure the Robert Hopkins Parent Council, along with the teaching staff, thought I was crazy.
Proposing a hockey arts project that impacted every child from JK to Grade 5.
About 350 children aged 5 to 11.
In the performing (dance & vocal) and the visual arts.
Content and curriculum based on hockey.
Math, literature, painting.
Ken Dryden showed up to launch the event.
A world class goaltender, Member of Parliament, educator and, yes, poet.
Maybe you didn’t know that.
Supported by contemporary Canadian artist and educator Christopher Griffin.
Whose en plein hockey painting on canvases created in January outdoors at Combermere Park, just resonate.
Complemented by the Sherwood company and its president.
Who didn’t bat an eye and donated 350 Canadian made junior maple hockey sticks for every kid in the school.
Shipped from Quebec to the teachers and volunteers at Robert Hopkins PS who taped, and taped and taped the sticks, ready for painting.
Giving the kids a chance to create a ‘totem’ – telling the story of Canada, at home and in their own back yard.
Over to Dave Ashe, professional photographer from Natural Resources Canada, who turned these sticks into layered photographic stories.
And Lori Wojcik, formerly of Wall Space and now of Town, taking the images and shaping them with steel frames.
Where they hang today in the Emergency department of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
Which brings me to Stompin’ Tom.
Who tells a story like no one else can.
Because Dave, Christopher, Lori and my friend Nick Masciantonio, who runs his Ottawa communications company and I, collaborated on a Youtube video to tell this very special hockey & art story.
And who helped us?
Because the hockey song felt right and well, very Canadian.
So I asked.
Can we use the “Hockey Song” as the backbone for our story?
For the 350 kids of Robert Hopkins Public School, many who never skated before but because of this project, did, thanks to the teachers and volunteers.
For the teachers who believed in giving the kids a chance at experiencing the arts – performing and visual – against a uniquely Canadian theme.
And for our belief in Canada and Canadian made Sherwood wooden hockey sticks.
As a platform for art and culture.
The response was pure Stompin’ Tom.
Yes you can.
So we did.
But it still sings.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOx5uUpmjwE – Youtube – “The Last Wooden Hockey Stick Made in Canada”.
Raw, visceral and pure.
Thank you Tom.
For making us sing.
And for passing along to the next generation a love of this country.