SKINNERS POND, P.E.I. - More than two decades after the residents of Skinners Pond, P.E.I., began trying to scrape 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.
He ran away four years later to hitchhike across the country and, eventually, perform 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 kept a special place in his heart.
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 cowboy boots and outside was a truck he used while touring across Canada. 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.''
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, Arsenault said Friday.
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.
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.
She said 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.