03/13/2013 06:14 EDT | Updated 05/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Stompin' Tom fans head to Peterborough for public tribute

Fans of Stompin’ Tom Connors are expected to start lining up outside the Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ont., today for a chance to say goodbye in style to the legendary folk and country singer.

Stompin’ Tom, who created songs celebrating Canadian places from coast to coast, died March 6 at age 77. His hits such as The Hockey Song, Sudbury Saturday Night and Up Canada Way inspired a devoted following.

Tributes from hundreds of Canadians poured in following his death and many of those fans are expected to make the trip to Peterborough for the public celebration of his life.

It will be first-come, first-served seating at the Memorial Centre, an arrangement Connors insisted on as the fairest way to allow fans to join in the tribute. There are 4,000 seats in the hockey arena.

The memorial is free, though fans are encouraged to bring a donation for Kawartha Food Share. It begins at 7 p.m.

Connors himself helped plan his public memorial, which will include videos, stories, photos, speeches about his life and songs by artists who played alongside him or followed in his footsteps.

In the final two weeks of his life, the singer knew his health was failing and he left instructions with his friend and promoter, Brian Edwards of Rocklands Entertainment, for a public memorial.

Connors, a chain smoker known for his black outfit and hat, chose the venue in Peterborough, the town where he first gained the nickname Stompin’ Tom, because of his habit of stomping his boot as he played.

A private memorial for Connors was held Tuesday. His family, wife Lena, two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren, are expected at the public memorial, though they don’t plan to speak.

Speeches will come from MP and former hockey star Ken Dryden, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, former EMI president Deane Cameron and Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett.

There will be performances, and stories, from artists who played with him such as Dave Gunning, Sylvia Tyson and J.P. Cormier and artists such as Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini and Nova Scotia country-folk singer Cindy Church who consider him a strong influence. Also on the bill is a Calgary singer who Connors has said is his natural successor – Tim Hus.

Legend has it that Connors began his musical career when he found himself a nickel short of a beer at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ont., in 1964 at age 28. The bartender agreed to give him a drink if he would play a few songs.

That turned into a 14-month contract to play at the hotel, where he had his first hit with Bud the Spud.

Connors’ songs celebrated Canadiana – bringing to light Canadian history with songs like Tribute to Wilf Carter, Wop May and The Bridge Came Tumblin' Down and telling stories of everyday lives like The Ferryman, Tillsonburg and Mad Moon Newfie.

A patriotic Canadian, he refused to take his act to the U.S., preferring to make his name touring the towns and cities of his home country.

Some of those songs will be revived in Peterborough Wednesday as fans and admirers gather to remember a true Canadian icon.