03/07/2013 02:30 EST | Updated 05/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Stompin' Tom remembered by fans, friends

Stompin' Tom Connors is being remembered by fans, friends and colleagues across the country as a fiercely patriotic musical icon who wrote songs that made Canadians of all stripes "feel like they came from someplace that mattered."

The beloved country and folk singer-songwriter died Wednesday at the age of 77 from what was described as "natural causes."

"Stompin' Tom was an extraordinary songwriter," NDP MP and musician Charlie Angus told CBC Thursday morning. "We have to remember that he was ridiculed for many years by the Canadian music establishment. They thought his music was embarrassing. They thought he was kitschy, because he sang about Canada. That was taboo. We were a cultural colony at the time and Tom fought against it."

In Timmins, Ont. — the city where, legend has it, a 28-year-old Connors first stepped onstage to perform — "we thought we weren't on any map in the world. Nobody talked about what we did," Angus recalled.

That was until he heard Connors' song Fire in the Mine.

"It just was a chilling song, because my grandfather worked at that mine." Angus said. "It was a song about our people and what happened to us …. He wrote those songs for people that made them feel like they came from someplace that mattered."

Federal NDP MPs sang Bud the Spud in tribute to Connors in Ottawa Thursday afternoon.

Canadians react

As news of Connors' passing spread, a wide range of figures — from musicians to politicians to the National Hockey League — expressed condolences for the prolific songwriter, who recorded more than 60 albums and wrote thousands of songs, according to his spokesman.

"Stompin' Tom was dedicated to documenting life in Canada in a way that was unapologetic, uncontrived and uncompromisingly Canadian. We owe him our pride and respect," singer k.d. lang, who performed with Connors several times and inspired his song Lady k.d. lang, said in a statement.

- Canada pays tribute to Stompin' Tom Connors on social media

"We have lost a true Canadian original," Prime Minister Stephen Harper posted via Twitter.

"Stompin’ Tom wrote songs about our country that spoke deeply to Canadians," National Arts Centre president Peter Herrndorf said in a statement.

"We are honoured to have his portrait with his signature black cowboy hat proudly displayed in the gallery of Governor General Performing Arts Awards winners."

"Sad to hear that legendary Canadian Stompin' Tom Connors has passed. His legacy lives on in arenas every time The Hockey Song is played," the National Hockey League posted online.

Connors' ability to connect with so many different Canadians, in diverse communities, was a recurring theme amid the flood of tributes.

"I'm a man of the land, I go out into the country and I talk to people, and I know the jobs they do and how they feel about their jobs," Connors once said.

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"What people saw [is that] he was truly real. He meant what he said. He was a Canadian all the way," veteran rocker Ronnie Hawkins recalled Thursday morning.

"He deserves to be the icon of icons of Canada …. Stompin' Tom was the Canadian."

His longtime promoter Brian Edwards, who began working with Connors 25 years ago after they'd already been friends for two decades before that, noted that many people didn't know the singer was "self-educated and probably could answer more questions about what happened in the world … than anybody could ever imagine.

"He could relate to doctors and lawyers," Edwards said. "He could relate to somebody that was homeless and anybody else. He had that appeal. We were often at political functions and he could carry on a conversation as intellectual as anybody else. [He had] a magnificent legal mind."

Also a devoted family man, Connors valued his wife Lena, his children and his grandchildren above all else, he added.

Memorial open to the public

A memorial for Connors will take place Wednesday at the Peterborough Memorial Centre, in Peterborough, Ont. At the singer's request, it will be open to the public.

"One of the things about Tom: he had a vision about everything," Edwards said of his final conversations with Connors last week.

"He was very hands-on with the planning of this memorial service and the funeral. He gave his blessing to everything. I knew him well enough that I knew exactly what he wanted — and he wasn’t afraid to share what he wanted. He’s going to get everything he wanted and then some."

The flags at Queen's Park will fly at half-mast on the day of Connors' funeral, according to CBC's Mike Crawley.