Remembering when Stompin’ Tom came to York University

Jamie Laws, (BA Spec. Hons. ’73), a Toronto-based chiropractor and the former president of the McLaughlin College Student Council and the Bigg House (part of the Tatham Hall residence on York University’s Keele campus) submitted this remembrance of Stompin’ Tom Connors and the singer’s moment in the University’s history. The iconic Canadian singer died at age 77 at his home on March 6.

StompinTom_2002In 1970, when downtown Toronto was more than 40 years further away from York University than it is today, it was hard to arrange for musical concerts at York.  One Saturday night, an intrepid group of adventurers and admirers of country and western music made the trek to the Horseshoe Tavern to hear some good music.

Stompin’ Tom Connors in 2002. The photo was taken during a performance in Peterborough, Ont. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The opening act was Stompin’ Tom Connors.  The admirers from the Bigg House (now known as the Mustang House) in the McLaughlin College residence (now Tatham Hall) were led by Ronald Moore, who was a lover of country music.  He was also a broadcaster on the campus radio station CHRY, where he delivered the “agriculture and farm report” including the price of porkbellies on the Chicago mercantile exchange.

This group, including Ted Goodchild (BA Spec. Hons.’71, MES ’74), Steven State (BA Spec. Hons. ’72), Michael Fletcher, Jim Chapman (BA Spec. Hons. ’88) and many others, were impressed by Stompin’ Tom. When his opening act was over at the Horseshoe Tavern, they negotiated with Stompin’ Tom and his manager to come to play in concert at McLaughlin College. At about 10pm on that Saturday night, Stompin’ Tom, his manager and the gang from McLaughlin arrived at the Bigg House Common Room on the sixth floor of the residence.

They had agreed on a fee of $20 cash, plus all the beer Stompin’ Tom could drink and all the record albums his manager could sell.  Stompin’ Tom set up his one and one-half inch plywood stompin’ board on top of a large coffee table that served as a stage.  He played his guitar and stomped his way through to the wee hours of the morning.  The common room was packed, and the hallways on the sixth and seventh floors, and the seventh floor balcony were packed with about 150 students.

In his playlist, Stompin’ Tom had Bud the Spud from the deep red mud of Prince Edward Island; Big Joe Mufferaw paddled down the Ottawa, all the way from Mattawa in just one day; and The Home Town song where the audience called out the name of their home town in Canada, and Stompin’ Tom had a verse to rhyme with it.  He did really well until two of the foreign students from Vietnam yelled out, Saigon.  Everyone with a home town in Canada was acknowledged.

In 1970 Stompin’ Tom had become famous for stomping his way through the plywood floor of the stage of the old President Hotel in Sudbury.  It took about seven months.  At the end, the hard drinking crowd of miners from INCO were taking bets on which day and which hour the stage floor would give way to Tom’s stompin’.  As a consequence, that’s how  Stompin’ Tom got his name.  He had to buy the plywood stompin’ board to protect the other stages where he played.  He was upset when the musician’s union made him register his stompin’ board as a separate musical instrument and pay extra union dues.

Stompin’ Tom Connors went on to become a Canadian folk hero:  a legendary Canadian Patriot with The Hockey Song and more than 300 original Canadian songs to his credit.  The McLaughlin College community is proud of his contribution to the musical heritage of Canada.  They are also proud to have hosted him for his concert debut at York University in 1970.