by Lyle Dillabough
The year was 1967. Canada's Centennial Year. A time to celebrate the past. A time for new beginnings. And it was also the year that a certain roving troubadour, one remarkable woman, an Ottawa Valley town and a hotel that exists there all came together to make history.
Canadian country music icon, Stompin' Tom Connors refers to the century old Mississippi Hotel (that still stands guard on the corner of Bridge Street and Lake Avenue although it's name has been changed to The Carleton Heritage Inn) in Carleton Place ,Ontario as the "Grand Ole Lady." And he has good reason to have fond memories of this treasured Ottawa Valley landmark.
This is because he wrote one of his very first hit songs there and Stompin' Tom is not the kind of man that forgets easily those people and places that have helped him along the way. The song he wrote there was the great Ottawa Valley tribute tune, "Big Joe Mufferaw."
On a warm summer's day in early June a relatively unknown singer by the name of Tom Connors rolled into Carleton Place driving his pickup truck and parked it out back behind the legendary establishment. He walked inside carrying his guitar and a piece of plywood. A group of four men were sitting around a table and Connors bought them all beer with the understanding that they would cheer him on when he auditioned for the owner. The owner was the unforgettable (and inductee to the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame) Lorraine Lemay.Connors got the job and a month long engagement set the stage for the launch of Stompin' Tom's recording career.
People talk of this tall lanky man's time in the Carleton Place area to this day. In those days Stompin' Tom would sleep on a bed that he had set up in the back of his pickup. After much convincing on the part of Ms. Lemay he agreed to accept her offer of a room in the hotel. "He just didn't want to be a burden in any way." Lemay said in an interview several years later.
Lemay also recalled how he worked on the lines of "Big Joe Mufferaw" day after day. "He kept asking me" she recalled, "do you think it's any good Mrs. Lemay? Do you think its any good?" Two years later that song could be heard on every country music station in the country.
In 1990 when the Mississippi Hotel was nearly demolished, it was saved by a few dedicated local people and Connors himself. "All that can be done must be done to ensure the preservation of the 'Grand Ole Lady' " He declared in a written statement