A rebel's return. (Canadian country singer Tom Connors)

A rebel's return

Mild-mannered and moderate, Canadians are generally wary about wrapping themselves in the flag. But Stompin' Tom Connors is unabashed about his patriotism. When the country singer hit the stage last week in Owen Sound, Ont. - his first concert in 13 years - the backdrop was a giant Maple Leaf. As the flag unfolded across the back of a high-school auditorium in the Georgian Bay community, 190 km northwest of Toronto, Connors walked onstage, and the packed audience of 700 greeted him with a standing ovation. Gaunt-faced, wiry and dressed from Stetson to boots in black, the 54-year-old musician from Skinner's Pond, P.E.I., looked more like a villain from a western than a defender of Canadian culture. But when he broke into his opening tune, Around the Bay and Back Again, with its references to the Georgian Bay locales of Tobermory, Collingwood and Owen Sound itself, his role as a champion of his country became clear.

When Connors stopped performing and recording in 1976, he condemned the music industry's lack of support for Canadian talent. Some of his fans treated his disappearance from the music scene as a national tragedy. Such celebrities as Morningside host Peter Gzowski and comedian Dan Aykroyd publicly pleaded with him to return. Many were puzzled that he left at the peak of his career, with a dozen top-selling albums to his credit. But the fact that Connors chose to turn his back on success only added to his mystique. He retired to a quiet, low-profile existence in an undisclosed southern Ontario location with his wife, Lena (a former go-go dancer whom Connors married on CBC TV's Elwood Glover Show in 1973), and their son, Tommy, now 14. …

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