Origin Stories: Tom Jackson
Searching for connection in community
Celebrated Canadian actor, singer and activist Tom Jackson was born to a Cree mother and an English father. From his many-windowed home between Calgary and the Rocky Mountains, the North of 60 star speaks of his teenage years.
“I found myself sleeping under (a) bench next to Portage Avenue looking at the walls of the University of Winnipeg. I used to wonder what it was like inside those walls. How wonderful it must be to be in a place of learning and being in a community that really cared for one another,” Jackson says.
He dropped out of high school and chose to live on the streets of Winnipeg, hanging out in the pool hall near the university. He joined gangs, which he refers to as communities of love and caring.
“People who have less actually have more, in my opinion. We have a connection that is always community,” Jackson says.
Eventually, the legendary storyteller’s life took a different direction. One day, after playing guitar as a stand-in on a CBC radio show, he was asked about doing radio work.
“What I realized, doing radio, was that it didn’t have colour. So you could paint pictures for people and tell stories. That was a cornerstone for me that changed the opportunities and direction that I had after that,” he says.
Jackson moved to Toronto. While there, he became addicted to drugs and, at one point, lived in a crawlspace. Somewhere along the way, he started to help people in similar dire circumstances and “felt a new kind of high.” He says it got him to where he is today, as a spokesperson for hope. Jackson’s first association with the “Huron Carol,” the oldest Canadian Christmas song, wasn’t planned.
“It was a bit of a coincidence. When I was 16, I had an offer to do a song on a television show called Christmas in a Global Village. They asked me if I knew this song called ‘Huron Carol,’” he says.
Jackson didn’t know the song but falsely claimed to read music. A friend taught him the song, and he was hired.
The song’s title later inspired The Huron Carole, an annual touring musical production led by Jackson to fundraise for humanitarian causes. The 2022 Huron Carole, which is available on demand until Jan. 19, is raising money for humanitarian aid in Ukraine through the Red Cross.
In 2021, the acclaimed artist penned a song called “Lost Souls.” Its verses refer to the discovery of 215 children’s graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops. The tale of tragedy told in song is not always well received.
“It’s an interesting reaction people have to ‘Lost Souls,’” Jackson says. “If you listen to the song, it’s very true. To some people, they’re happy to be awakened. Others have said, ‘You can’t play this.’ They’re too sensitive.”
Jackson plans to turn “Lost Souls” into a feature film through Tomali Pictures, a production company he founded in the early 1990s. The project’s working title is 215.
“We’re going to shoot this, likely next year, if I can find the time in my schedule,” he says.
Jackson also mentions the 2022 Christmas Benefit Concert tour entitled Songs, Stories and Santa Causes. He feels the concert gives audiences a morale boost and gets them out of a collective funk, especially after living under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Don’t just celebrate Christmas, be Christmas. The most important factor you take away (from the concert) is a better understanding of love. Not the word, but the verb,” Jackson says.
Published in Volume 77, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 5, 2023)