A Twitter hashtag I use a lot is #hoserism, and I think I can trace its origins back to Stompin' Tom. It's my version of Canadian nationalism, and it's a little different than how nationalism often shows up. I'm not out to prove that my country or my province is better than yours, or that everything Canadian's automatically better than anything from anywhere else, or even that the sports team from my country should defeat the sports team from yours (which proves so much, of course). For me, it's more about celebrating the uniqueness and the diversity of what we do have in Canada. I unashamedly like and celebrate a lot of Canadian things, from Rush to SCTV to the CFL, and I'm just fine with that, but they each have their own attractions, and it's not about yelling about how one of these things is the best level of Canadian culture and everything else is inferior. In my mind, that fits in with a lot of what Stompin' Tom wrote about. Many of his songs are about incredibly specific Canadian places, their glories and their problems, but you never really get the sense that he's trying to boost one part of the country over all others, or even that he's trying to criticize the rest of the world. Instead, he was showing off his pride in this entire country, and I think that's laudable. His "Stompin' Grounds" is a perfect example of this:
Perhaps most importantly, though, Stompin' Tom constantly fought against the idea that the only real Canadian successes were those who went and made it big south of the border. Personally, I'm fine with Canadians deciding that living in the U.S. is a better fit for their life or their career; everyone's situation is unique, and a lot of those Canadian exports have done great things for this country's profile. What Stompin' Tom really promoted was the idea that that's not the only means of success, though, that it's just fine to be focused on a Canadian audience. That's something I try to embrace personally, primarily writing about the CFL the way I do. Sure, I do some wider-audience stuff, and that's fun too, but I don't necessarily need to cover a sport that's popular worldwide to have a fulfilling career. There's no shame in liking and writing about Canadiana even if it doesn't make you a huge worldwide name. Stompin' Tom's career is absolute proof of that, and the impact he had on this country is one to be admired.
Stompin' Tom's biggest legacy may be the idea that including Canadian references in your art is a laudable thing, not a shameful one. We're seeing a lot of that today, from music (bands from the Arkells to Japandroids to Arcade Fire have filled their work with specific Canadian references) to television (in both U.S. and Canadian shows: we've seen everything from How I Met Your Mother's take on the Grey Cup to unapologetically-Canadian shows like Republic of Doyle and Arctic Air) to books (some of my favourite reads lately are Tanya Huff's fantasy novels, many of which are set in Canadian cities). A Canadian background's become something to be largely celebrated, not hidden, and I think we hosers owe Stompin' Tom a massive debt for that.
CBC's Jian Ghomeshi did a remarkable hour-long tribute to Stompin' Tom on his Q show Thursday (listen to it here), and this was shown throughout it. Ghomeshi interviewed NDP MP (and famed former musician) Charlie Angus, who commented that Stompin' Tom's stand in favour of Canadiana has influenced countless bands today. "“Bands are so proud of where they come from," Angus said “That is part of that legacy. We come from really great places in this country and there is no shame in singing about that.” It was an old interview with Stompin' Tom himself Ghomeshi aired that provided the most important comments, though. Stompin' Tom told Ghomeshi his constant goal was to make it so he was always viewed as Canadian first, and he said he hoped his legacy was just getting Canadians to think about their own country.
"There’s no other way to feel about Stompin’ Tom than Canadian," he said. "If they learn my songs, they’ll be singing about Canada. To me, that’s reward enough."
Ghomeshi asked Stompin' Tom how things had changed over his career, and he said he thought there was a growing awareness of Canadian stories.
"Canada has grown up in terms of being aware of itself," he said. "We’re becoming aware that we too have heroes like the Americans do."
We sure do. Unfortunately, we lost one of them Wednesday, but we'll always have his music. Here's my favourite Stompin' Tom song, about the greatest possible cross-Canada truck journey:
Thank you, Tom. Your hoserism will always be remembered, and all of us Canadians owe you a massive debt.