“Drivin’ country roads, highway 509,
August sun is shinin’, and we’re feelin’ fine,
Been workin’ real hard, and we need a little break,
Headin’ for the party up at Palmerston Lake
Grab a bottle, twist the cap, and pass it around,
Swayin’ with my baby to the country sounds,
Music’s loud, fool around, go for a romp,
This is how we do it at the Ompah Stomp”
The Ompah Stomp
It was late August, 1978, that we heard about a music festival, to be held over the Labour Day weekend, 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!
The Village of Ompah
In those days, Ompah was a tiny, quiet, village. The most popular place in Ompah, was the Trout Lake Hotel, owned by Wayne Kearney.
The building was originally a private residence; over 150 years old, in fact it was the oldest building in Ompah. Over the years, the residence became a popular local 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 claimed that it was one of the first bars in the province.
The hotel was rumoured to have been the setting for some famous and infamous barroom brawls too, but we won’t get into that. The busiest times were in the summer. During the year, there were quiet times, but the seasonal visitors, mostly summer fishing enthusiasts, and the winter snowmobiling patrons, kept it fairly busy.
Trout Lake Hotel, Ompah, Ontario
The First Ompah Stomp
After much anticipation, Labour Day weekend, 1978, finally arrived.
We jammed as many young people 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 onto Cameron Side Road, past Calvin Church, over the railroad 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, green, and lush, with tall, majestic trees, situated on a hill, overlooking scenic Palmerston Lake.
Palmerston Lake (also referred to locally as Trout 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. There was a step dancing contest, held at about 8 p.m., followed by old fashioned round and square dancing. The musical guest artists that year were Sneezy Waters, Mike O’Reilly, and Wayne Rostad.
Thomas Burke’s Store, Ompah
L-> R: Dennis Rowan (bass) , Neville Wells (vocals, guitar), Peter Clements (drums), Al Webster (guitar), Band: Sweetwater
Over the years, we grew to believe, that this annual country music festival, was our own little ‘Woodstock’. The Ompah Stomp grew, in leaps and bounds, as people heard about it, and wanted to experience the live music, and party atmosphere.
That first year, in 1978, the organizers had anticipated about 200 people attending, and the total numbers were closer to 3,500. The second year, the crowds grew to 5,000 and the third year, saw the attendance numbers rise to 6,500.
L – Tony Hickey Centre – Paul Munro, R. – Brent Munro
Local dancers – showing off their moves
Some of the musical acts that performed at the Stomp were: Neville ‘Nev’ Wells, , 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
1978 – early crowds at the Ompah Stomp
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)
The Crowds Grew Larger Each Year
The Ompah Stomp became a much-anticipated annual event, and was featured in the local newspapers.
“Perth Courier” Sept. 2, 1981, page 19:
Poster from 1982
A section of the happy crowd – 1978
The Road to ‘The Stomp’ – 1983
Poster from 1984
Liquor and beer flowed freely from coolers and wine-skins, 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. In those days, if we wanted to hear live music of that caliber, we’d have to travel to Ottawa or Kingston, so it was great to have the Ompah Stomp so nearby.
As the years passed by, the Ompah Stomp had a reputation as a wild party, and the local police adopted stricter controls for the festival.
The Stomp carried on for many years, after those first few annual celebrations. Visitors traveled from the U.S., and from neighbouring provinces as well.
Labour Day weekend was one of the busiest and most exciting times for us, in the area, because of the Ompah Stomp.
Looking back, it’s difficult to imagine that a tiny village of around 100 people, and their local snowmobile club, could create a music festival, attracting thousands of people, from all around.
The Ompah Stomp was a shining example of the spirit of the people in rural Eastern Ontario, and what they could accomplish. 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.
I will always remember those special times at the Ompah Stomp, and how they 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!
Neville Wells, a founding father of the ‘Ompah Stomp’, was inducted into the Ottawa Valley County Music Hall of Fame, in 1994.
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, Elliott, 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.
… Search for your ancestor in the 1901 Census of Canada:
Why Did the Ompah Stomp end? Find out the real reasons behind the final days of the Ompah Stomp, from the people who were there…
Discover the ‘glory days’ of the Ompah Stomp, how it began, who was there, the unforgettable parties, the music, and more:
“The Legendary Ompah Stomp”, in the book –
‘Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home’ ISBN: 978-0-9877026-61
Available at The Book Nook and Other Treasures, and The Bookworm, in Perth, Mill Street Books in Almonte, or online at http://www.staffordwilson.com
For more information on the history of Ompah and some of its founding families:
Clarendon and Miller Community Archives: