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Memorial gives fans a rousing tribute to Canada's Stompin' Tom Connors

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PETERBOROUGH, Ont. -- A public memorial to Stompin' Tom Connors was a joyous celebration Wednesday, as thousands of devoted fans packed the Peterborough Memorial Centre to pay tribute to the late Canadian country icon with songs, signs, suds and one standing ovation after another.

An eclectic mixture of Canadian musicians, politicians and Connors' close friends paid tribute to the unique, black-hatted songwriter behind Bud the Spud and The Hockey Song while jovial spectators -- who had spent the day lining up for access, some singing Connors' songs and sipping beers -- responded enthusiastically to every tribute, clip and anecdote.

"We're going to show you we really know how to throw a party," said Connors' longtime promoter, Brian Edwards, as he introduced the festivities.

While the ceremony had its sombre moments, from the start it was clear this was not meant to be a mournful event.

And given Connors had an integral role in planning the memorial before his death last week, Edwards and others were able to say with certainty the rousing tribute was conducted exactly the way Connors would have wanted. He even handpicked most of the lineup of performers, beginning with a spirited fiddle medley from Billy Macinnis.

Calgary's Tim Hus performed his original tribute Man in the Black Hat, Connors collaborators J.P. Cormier and Dave Gunning teamed for an inspired medley of Little Wawa and Gumboot Cloggeroo, Sylvia Tyson and Cindy Church collaborated on an elegant version of Connors' Farewell to Nova Scotia and former Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini contributed his take on Bridge Came Tumbling Down.

Tributes from Connors peers including Rita MacNeil and Liona Boyd were read aloud, while country legend Tommy Hunter sat close to the stage.

In a series of speeches, Connors was remembered as tolerant, authentic, clever and surprisingly warm for a guy who, as Bidini attested, could level an intense stare that initially made him feel "terrified."

He was even, according to Edwards, a savvy Scrabble player.

Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson spoke at particular length about her friendship with Connors, whom she remembered as "truly wonderful."

"Stompin' Tom, the man that we're celebrating today, is that very unusual thing: something that we can all agree about as Canadians," she said.

"He was a gift to us as Canadians. And I think the secret to his gift was that he knew that he was giving it.

"When Stompin' Tom stomped on that board, he stomped 'Canada, Canada' into our hearts," she added. "We didn't ask for Stompin' Tom. He just blew onto us like a wonderful wind."

The speeches were intermittently interrupted by outbursts of applause, cheering or the odd shout of "We miss you Tom!" from the passionate assemblage.

The evening began with a rare solemn interlude, as nine members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carried Connors' casket -- covered entirely in a Canadian flag -- onto the stage. Connors' wife, Lena, then walked out to a rousing standing ovation and placed a black cowboy hat on top.

A private memorial was held for the singer Tuesday night.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2013 A10

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