I think it’s safe to say that Canadians are proud of their country but fairly subdued when it comes to expressing it. However, when given a chance, they can and do let loose. And that’s exactly what they did in early February.
The stage was set: the biggest snow storm of the year, music provided by a band with the same name as our national bird, the Queen’s representative in attendance, the celebration of a national icon’s birthday, a birthday cake emblazoned with maple leaves, famous Canadian author takes the stage and the pièce de résistance… Gordon Lightfoot’s surprise appearance.
It was a packed house at an event that triggered a collective and spontaneous celebration of everything Canadian. It was the Fourth Annual Birthday Celebration for the late Stompin’ Tom Connors and the crowd was primed to wave the flag and feel pretty alright about being Canadian.
Many braved the snow storm from miles away to attend. Like the three young fans from Barrie who drove through white-outs on Highway 400; “no problem, we do it all the time” they said.
The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor was there applauding enthusiastically as Stompin’ Tom’s widow Lena joined the band for the 1960s Canadian classic, The French Song. The renowned Canadian author David MacFarlane and his musical partner Douglas Cameron performed a catchy Stompin’ Tom number called Luke’s Guitar.
The band began its Gordon Lightfoot feature by sharing a story about his appearance at last year’s show. In the middle of the Lightfoot song, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered as Gordon Lightfoot himself walked in, grinning broadly as he heard his Song For A Winter’s Night. A serendipitous moment if ever there was one!
Moments later, Gordon joined us on stage and spent a few minutes reminiscing about his many outrageous encounters with his good friend, Stompin’ Tom. The crowd, including Tom’s widow Lena, was spellbound. After praising the band, (“you guys sound amazing”), he returned to his seat to enjoy the rest of the show and pose for photos with fans.
Oh, and the huge birthday cake covered in maple leaves? It was strawberry shortcake of course. A fitting end to a memorable afternoon of good old fashion Canadian patriotism!
Contributed by Duncan Fremlin
Raconteur and banjo player for his Toronto band Whiskey Jack, now touring with their Canada 150 show, Stories & Songs of Stompin’ Tom Connors.