Barn Dance 23: 2018's Tommy Hunter presentation remains a highlight
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
If the Barn Dance had a Mount Rushmore, it’s hard to believe that Tommy Hunter wouldn’t be one of the four faces carved into its granite.
Hunter, who has been long known as Canada’s Country Gentleman, has won many awards over the years, but one of the most emotional honours he received came in Blyth at the Barn Dance Jamboree campout in 2018, when he was honoured with one of The Barn Dance Historical Society’s Pioneer Awards. He made a rare public appearance in Blyth to accept the award in person, on the Barn Dance stage, performing, in a way, for the first time since his farewell concert.
Hunter is a member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and a winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. He has won three Juno Awards, one Gemini Award and has been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and has been given a place on the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Walkway of Stars in Nashville, Tennessee.
The London native is best known for his years at the head of The Tommy Hunter Show and on CKNX’s Barn Dance.
Hunter is now in his mid-80s and fully retired from the music scene.
The award is one cited by many involved with the Barn Dance as being a highlight of the 25-year history of the event. Organizers said they had been trying to get on the same page as Hunter for years to bring him to a show and present him with an award and, in 2018, the stars finally aligned and the presentation was made.
At the 2018 show, Hunter, who was 81 at the time, said it was a tremendous honour for him to be in Blyth and that he greatly appreciated the hundreds in attendance for their years of love and support.
His first order of business on the stage, however, was to sing “Happy Birthday” to the night’s emcee and long-time CKNX voice Jim Swan, who was celebrating his 75th birthday that night.
Hunter was emotional after the song, saying that it was the first time he sang on stage since his final concert, which was held at Budweiser Gardens in London in 2012 on his 75th birthday.
He then signed off his appearance that night as he had his show and concerts for decades beforehand, telling those in Blyth, “And the good Lord willing, we’ll be talking to you again real soon.”
Hunter received a sustained standing ovation from those in attendance on that Saturday night who stayed standing to listen to Hunter speak.
According to his website, Hunter was in search of a guitar to learn how to play before he had reached the tender age of 10 years old. His first guitar was rented and it came along with some lessons.
In the years that followed, Hunter would perform extensively all over the world, including entertaining troops at every major military base in Canada and U.N. Forces all over the world.
Hunter celebrated his 60th birthday in 1997 in Toronto through a black-tie affair at the Royal York Hotel which raised funds for children’s hospitals in Toronto and London, charities that were close to Hunter’s heart over the course of his career.
Hunter’s Pioneer Award was one of the last ever handed out by the society on May 26, 2018. Only Joe Firth’s award, presented in Maryhill on June 10, 2018, was presented after Hunter’s award.
With the 25th and final Barn Dance set for this month, it’s unclear if further awards will be handed out, but it seems fitting that Hunter was among the last people honoured by the organization, creating one of the most memorable tributes in the event’s quarter-century history.