The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Stories Behind Great Songs and Great Canadian Places…Song #9/250: Sudbury Saturday Night by Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Canada’s troubadour…Stomping’ Tom Connors.

Stompin’ Tom Connors was one of Canada’s most beloved troubadours. In his career, he recorded almost fifty albums, selling over four million copies in the process. He was invested into the Order of Canada (which is the highest honour a Canadian citizen can attain). He has been awarded Juno Awards for his music. He has been given a place of honour on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. His marriage in the 1970s was broadcast on daytime TV. His funeral in 2013 was also broadcast on the CBC. Tom Connors was fiercely Canadian. He traveled from one end of the country to the other, writing songs about the beauty of the land, the people who lived there and the history of their lives. Stompin’ Tom Connors was such a presence on our cultural scene that he is one of the very few people in the world to ever have met Queen Elizabeth and not have had to remove his hat! In a career that spanned over a half century, Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote many songs that have become woven into the cultural fabric of our country including “Bud the Spud”, “The Hockey Song”, “The Ketchup Song”, “Big Joe Mufferaw” and, of course, today’s song, “Sudbury Saturday Night”. Let’s take a closer look at that particular song, how Tom Connors came to write it and a bit about the story he was telling us all about with his song. Here is the story of “Sudbury Saturday Night” by Canada’s own Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Tom Connors weds Lena Walsh live on the Elwood Glover TV Show on CBC.

Tom Connors was born in St. John, New Brunswick in 1936. His childhood was a tough one. Connors was born into poverty. His mother and biological father broke up early in his young life. As a result, he and his mother lived a very transient existence, moving from house to house, barely staying ahead of the bill collectors. Tom’s mother often stole to pay for rent or food or alcohol, and because of this, she was known to the local police. Because his mother was often incarcerated for petty theft, she spent many days in the county jail. Many times, Tom was thrown in with her because it was easier for the municipality to care for her child by providing a form of penal daycare than it was to actually provide a proper home and assistance that a young child requires in order to grow up with a stable life. Eventually, Tom Connors was removed from his mother’s custody and placed into foster care. He was adopted by a couple from Prince Edward Island when he was ten years old. By the age of fourteen, he left that home, standing on the side of the Trans Canada Highway that ran past their house, thumb extended. Connors was picked up and began a cross-country odyssey that saw him journey to all manner of small towns and bigger cities in Canada. In each place where he would be let off, Connors would find piece work, earning enough money for a hot meal, a cold beer and a place to lay his head. It was while working at these odd jobs such as tobacco picking, as a lumberjack or a miner that Connors began to display an affinity for storytelling. He was a working-class man who appreciated the work ethic of others like him, so he decided to tell their tales on their behalf. In his late teens, he saved enough money to buy a second-hand guitar. Notebook in hand, Connors began writing songs about the people he was meeting and the history of their lives. His first ever song was called “Reversing Falls Darling”. Later, in his twenties, Tom Connors found himself working at the nickel mines in Sudbury, Ontario. One night he was sitting in the Towne House Tavern. He asked the bartender for a beer. The cost was thirty-five cents. Connors only had thirty. The bartender took the thirty cents but asked Connors if he would repay his debt by singing a few songs, as there was no musical act booked that night. Even though he had never appeared on a professional music stage before, Tom Connors took his guitar and strode to the front of the room. For the most part, the patrons there ignored him. Tom Connors approached the microphone and began to play. The crowd ignored him again. Their conversations and laughter made it hard for Connors to hear himself play. In order to help himself keep time, he began to stomp his foot down on the stage. Doing so enabled him to maintain a proper beat. Eventually, the crowd turned their attention to this young man pounding away on the stage. A few even applauded when he finished. Tom Connors returned to the bar when his set was over. The bartender paid him in the form of a second beer. That man was named Gaetan Lepine. Lepine asked Connors to come back and play again the following night. Connors accepted and started what would become a fourteen month run as the house act at the Towne House Tavern in Sudbury, Ontario. It was while living in Sudbury that Connors wrote “Sudbury Saturday Night”. He also became known as a jingle writer and would often write jingles for local businesses in exchange for products such as snow tires and furniture. The fourteen months that Tom Connors spent in Sudbury were the most stable months of his life up until that point. His charming personality endeared him to many and soon his music was being played on radio stations in places such as Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie. It was not long after that Connors was signed to a record contract and that he released his debut album. One of the songs on it was “Sudbury Saturday Night”.

INCO plant, complete with the Superstack.

At the time Tom Connors was singing at the Towne House Tavern, Sudbury was very much known as a company town. The major employer there was a mining company called INCO. The letters in INCO stood for International Nickel Company. In the 1850s, nickel was discovered in Sudbury. Before too long, much of the western world’s supply of nickel was coming directly from the mines in Sudbury. There was much work available to those brave and/or desperate enough to work in the dangerous conditions of the nickel mines. Because INCO controlled almost all employment in the area, they called the shots when it came to wages paid, benefits offered and so on. If a worker was unhappy there, they were free to leave and find work elsewhere. But, if you wanted to stay in Sudbury then you did so on INCO’s terms. When Tom Connors arrived in Sudbury, he did so at a time when union activity had begun to take root. In fact, one of the most noteworthy events in Canadian Labour history was the first big strike at INCO in the 1970s. Miners went on strike for almost a year. Somehow, they were able to withstand the loss of income and were able to outwait the company (which is not how strikes often turn out). In any case, INCO eventually settled on terms that favoured the union. It was in that atmosphere that Connors wrote “Sudbury Saturday Night”. Being a working-class man, he told the story of life in Sudbury from the perspective of ordinary workers. Because he tended to be a novelty-song style of writer, he built his song around words that rhymed with INCO such as “bingo” and “stinko”. Before long, he had a song that went straight from the Towne House Tavern stage and into the musical canon of the country.

The Towne House Tavern in Sudbury, Ontario.

For a while, Stompin’ Tom Connors was as big a name in the Canadian music scene as there was. He was always good at using his platform to speak out on behalf of Canada and Canadian musicians. In fact, at one point in his career, he returned all of the JUNO Awards he had won because he was upset that much of the JUNO spotlight was being given to musicians who were spending the bulk of their time and careers in the US. Connors believed that a Canadian music awards show should be honouring those musicians who were working in Canada. While the JUNO Awards show continues on as it has, there were many musicians who were most appreciative of what Tom Connors was trying to say. So when it came time for his funeral, those who appeared on stage to honour his legacy were all singers or bands that had stayed in Canada and who wrote about Canada such as The Rheostatics, Damhnait Doyle, Sylvia Tyson, JP Cormier and others. Flags across the country were set to half-mast in his honour. The then-Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, spoke at his funeral on behalf of the country. Not bad for a man who came from the childhood that Connors had.

Fans gather outside of The Towne House Tavern on a Sudbury Saturday Night.

At the funeral, Tom Connors Jr. eulogized his dad by saying how proud he had been to live in Canada and how he longed for others to wave Canada’s flag proudly. Many have taken up the mantle of being Canada’s troubadour, most notably Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, but every singer and band who take pen to paper and write about the places they live and work in, the people that they meet and the history embedded in the land are all following in the footsteps of one of our greatest musicians of all time, Stompin’ Tom Connors. I am sure that if there is, indeed, an afterlife, that somewhere there is a plywood square being stomped on with pride. In this life, the Towne House Tavern celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Sudbury Saturday Night” by gathering together the regulars and making a video of everyone singing that song together. The thing about it all is that there were smiles and happiness all around. As it often was whenever Stompin’ Tom Connors was involved.

The link to the video for the song “Sudbury Saturday Night” by Stompin’ Tom Connors can be found here. ***There appears to not be a Lyric version online. So, instead, a complete list of the written lyrics can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stompin’ Tom Connors can be found here.

The link to the video of the Towne House Tavern regulars singing “Sudbury Saturday Night” can be found here.

The link to the video from a new Canadian TV show called “Shoresy” *(a spin-off of Letter Kenney) of a promo skit called, “Sudbury Saturday Night” can be found here. NSFW.

The link to the official website for Sudbury, Ontario can be found here.

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