Tiny P.E.I. hamlet readies Stompin' Tom Centre for 'perfect' Canada Day opening

More than two decades after the residents of Skinners Pond, P.E.I., began scraping together the money to build a centre dedicated to the music and life of their most famous son, the Stompin' Tom Centre will open its doors on Canada's 150th birthday.

Centre will include dinner theatre, gift shop, and recording studio

The new Stompin Tom Connors cultural centre, which includes Connors's boyhood home and schoolhouse, will open July 1. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

More than two decades after residents of Skinners Pond, P.E.I., began scraping together the money to build a centre dedicated to the music and life of their most famous son, the Stompin' Tom Centre will open its doors on Canada's 150th birthday.

The $1.2-million centre will preserve Stompin' Tom Connors' boyhood home and the nearby schoolhouse he attended.

"It's perfect timing. It's Canada 150 and he was such an iconic Canadian," said Anne Arsenault, general manager of the local economic development group, Tignish Initiatives, which developed and owns the centre set to open July 1.

Connors was born in Saint John, N.B., placed in the care of Children's Aid at age eight and adopted a year later by a family in Skinners Pond.

A special place

He ran away four years later to hitchhike across the country, performing his own songs with an old guitar to support himself. He wrote hundreds of tunes, many based on actual events, people and towns he had visited.

But Skinners Pond held a special place in his heart.

Anne Arsenault, CEO of Tignish Initiatives Corporation is seen at the site of the proposed Stompin Tom Connors cultural centre in Skinners Pond, P.E.I. in 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In the 1970s, Connors purchased the Skinners Pond schoolhouse, which was opened to the public to show off some of his memorabilia.

There were gold records on the wall, a pair of well-worn cowboyboots and outside was a truck he used while touring across Canada.

'He was at peace here'

But the site was eventually closed and Connors' keepsakes were shipped to his home in Ontario.

Before he died in March 2013 at the age of 77, Connors made it clear he considered Skinners Pond his home and he supported plans to revive the museum and build a cultural centre.

"He was at peace here," his widow Lena Connors said when plans were unveiled.

"This was tranquil for him. He loved this area."

Canadian music legend Stompin' Tom Connors purchased the Skinners Pond schoolhouse in the 1970s. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Funding problems

But the plan fell apart briefly when Heritage Canada denied $350,000 in funding — on top of other federal and provincial money — because Tignish Initiatives isn't considered an arts or heritage organization.

The group ultimately decided to scale back its plans and proceed.

The centre will host a Stompin' Tom-themed dinner theatre, a gift shop, and a recording studio where visitors can "record a song with Stompin' Tom," said Arsenault.

Among the exhibits on display will be his gold records, boots, cowboy hat, and guitar.

A grand opening

Organizers are planning concerts over several days around the July 1 weekend.

"To be quite honest, we always said the grand opening for the centre would have to be Canada Day. It is a coincidence that this year, it's the 150. We actually had hoped to open the centre last year, but it got postponed. These things happen for a reason I guess," said Arsenault.

Stompin Tom Connors boyhood home will be preserved as part of the centre. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Stompin' Tom's iconic P.E.I. tourism jingle — 800-565-7421 — will be used as part of the marketing blitz for the
grand opening.

Like his other songs, including The Hockey Song, Bud the Spud and Sudbury Saturday Night, the catchy jingle is an ear worm still familiar to Canadians today.

"He just had some ability to write simple songs that resonate," Arsenault said.