Late one summer, we heard that there was going to be a music festival over the Labour Day weekend, up in Ompah. This was going to be a back-roads tour to end all back-roads tours – an outdoor party with live music, and we couldn’t wait!
There wasn’t really much up there at that time. The most popular thing in Ompah was likely the Trout Lake Hotel owned by Wayne Kearney. It was a former residence; over 150 years old, in fact it was the oldest building in Ompah and was now a bar. The old timers around there say that they began serving liquor there in 1904. It was the first licensed establishment in Eastern Ontario and the locals also said it was one of the first bars in the province. That place was the home of some famous and infamous barroom brawls too, but we won’t get into that. There were quiet times, but the people who went up there mostly summer fishing enthusiasts and the winter snowmobiling patrons kept it fairly busy.
After much anticipation, Labour Day weekend finally arrived. We packed as many of us that could fit into one of my friend’s parent’s cars and off we headed to Ompah. We drove up the third line and turned up Cameron Side Road, past Calvin Church and over the tracks and onto Hwy 7. We turned onto the Elphin Maberly Road and continued onto Hwy 509, then Lake Road and Lafolia Lane. We parked and got out of the car. The Stomp grounds were beautiful with tall, majestic trees, situated on a hill, overlooking Palmerston Lake.
That first Ompah Stomp was held on September 3, 1978 and their special guests were Max Keeping of CJOH TV and Doug Anderson of CKBY FM. The step dancing contest was held at about 8pm followed by old fashioned round and square dancing. The musical guest artists that year were Sneezy Waters, Mike O’Reilly and Wayne Rostad.
L-> R: Dennis Rowan (bass) , Neville Wells (vocals, guitar), Peter Clements (drums), Al Webster (guitar), Band: Sweetwater
I guess we thought that it was our own little ‘Woodstock’, and over the years the Ompah Stomp grew as people heard about it and wanted to experience the live music and party atmosphere. That first year, the organizers had anticipated about 200 people showing up and they ended up with a crowd of closer to 3,500. The second year the crowds grew to 5,000 and the third year saw that rise to 6,500.
L – Tony Hickey Centre – Paul Munro, R. – Brent Munro
Some of the musical acts that performed at the Stomp were: Neville ‘Nev’ Wells, also a member of the Ompah snowmobiling club, the Family Brown, Jack McRae and the King of Clubs, The Prescott Brothers, Hugh Scott, Ron McMunn and Carbine, Steve Glenn, David Thompson, Fred Dixon, Lynn and Chris, Lloyd Wilson, Dallas Harms, Ted Daigle, C-Weed Band, Terry Carisse and many others.
L -> R: Dennis Rowan, Neville Wells
Guitar: Neville Wells
Drums: Peter Clements
Gary “Spike” Spicer (guitar) Warren Sutcliffe (bass)
Pete McCormick (drums)
“Perth Courier” September 12, 1979 – a review of the second year of the ‘Stomp’:
Dennis Rowan, Neville Wells
A poem written by Kathy Norwood, about the ‘Stomp’ printed in March 1980
Peter Clements (drums) Doug Orr
“Perth Courier” Sept. 2, 1981 page 19:
Poster from 1982
The Road to ‘The Stomp’ – 1983
Poster from 1984
Liquor and beer flowed freely from coolers and wineskins and the lineup at the washroom facilities was unbelievably long, but everyone enjoyed themselves just the same. It was wonderful to have a music festival so close to us. Usually, if we wanted to hear live music of that calibre we’d have to travel to Ottawa or Kingston, so it was great to have the Ompah Stomp so close by.
The Stomp would carry on for many years after those first few annual celebrations, and people would come up from the States and would come from neighbouring provinces as well, some came from as far as Alberta. Labour Day weekend was one of the busiest and most exciting for us in the area, because we had the Perth Fair and the Ompah Stomp.
Who would have ever thought that a small village of around 100 people and their little snowmobile club would be able to create a music festival that would attract thousands of people from all around. It was another example of the spirit of the people who lived in rural Eastern Ontario. They never faltered in their belief that they could succeed, or lacked the confidence to organize a music festival just because they were a handful of folks from a tiny village. The Ompah Stomp became a metaphor, an example for all of us that it only takes a few people who believe strongly in something to make a difference. It sure made a difference for us kids in the country who were always looking for a little excitement; and the Ompah Stomp made our last weekend each summer something we’d all remember fondly for years to come.
Photos from the 1978 Ompah Stomp from the private collection of Don White from the band Grateful We’re Not Dead: Grateful We’re Not Dead Facebook Page
Many thanks to Don White and Neville Wells for providing the names of the musicians in the photos!
For more information on Grateful We’re Not Dead: Grateful We’re Not Dead Official Band Website
Some of the families who settled around Ompah: Dunham, Kelford, Closs, Conlon, Dawson, Ellenberger, English, Gunner, Hitchcock, Cox, Keller, Killlingbeck, Kirkwood, Mabo, Massey, McGonigal, McDougall, Molyneaux, Moore, McDonald, Murphy, Payne, Praskey, Sproule, Thomas, Tooley, Richardson, Riddell, Roberts, Sproule, Stewart, Stinson, Thomas, Uens, Ostler, MacRow, Martelock, James, Ackerman, Allen, Struthers, Brown, Gunsinger, Lemke, Armstrong, Jeannerett, Hermer, McNeil, Badour, Johnston, Kring, HIll, Weiss, Wood, Card, Boyd, Dempster, Donaldson, Larock, Morrow, Mundell, Praskey, Ryder, Shanks.
A link to the 1911 Census of Frontenac County, Palmerston, including Ompah:
If you would like to read more about the Ompah Stomp, the complete story “Stomping in Ompah” is included in a collection of stories in the book “Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line”
Available at The Book Nook, The Bookworm & Blackwood Originals in Perth, Perfect Books & Books on Beechwood in Ottawa, Arlie’s Books in Smiths Falls, Mill St. Books and Divine Consign in Almonte, or on http://www.staffordwilson.com
For more information on the history of Ompah and some of its founding families:
Clarendon and Miller Community Archives: