Tom Wilson is trying to honour his culture with every word he writes and every stroke of his paint brush

‘The quest for identity for some adopted kids is a lifelong journey. My belief is without identity, we have nothing to offer the world.’

At a young age, Tom Wilson had questions and doubts about who he was.

He even likes to joke that he was dropped out of a spaceship and into his backyard at birth.

Wilson came from a loving home and his parents, Bunny and George, provided him with opportunities he feels he might not otherwise have had.

Still, he suspected Bunny and George were not his real parents. When he asked Bunny about it, she told him there were some secrets she would take to her grave and that’s what she did.

It would be decades later when Wilson would be informed by a complete stranger, that he was adopted.

“The quest for identity for some adopted kids is a lifelong journey. My belief is without identity, we have nothing to offer the world,” during an interview with Face to Face in his workshop in Hamilton, Ont., west of Toronto.

Wilson decided to ask his cousin Janie if she had any answers about who he was.

“And I was driving Janie home and I said you know what I found out a couple of weeks ago that mom and dad we’re really my mom and dad and if you can tell me anything about that please do,” Wilson said.

“And she turned to me in that moment and said ‘Tom I don’t know how to tell you this, I’m sorry and I hope you forgive me but I’m your mother.’”

Wilson says in that moment, his life started flipping by him like cards of memories.

“They talk about your life flashing before your eyes when you die, well when you’re being reborn, your life flashes before your eyes. I started to accumulate all of that and nurture myself in a different way, with this knowledge that I was Janie’s son,” he said. “That my father was a Mohawk from Kahnawake, that my mother, Janie, was a Mohawk from Kahnawake.

“I grew up, jokingly I say, thinking I was a big puffy, sweaty, Irish guy my whole life and here I am, a Mohawk.”

Wilson details the story of finding his identity and much more in his 2017 memoir, Beautiful Scars.

Like a lot of people, Tom Wilson grew up wanting to be a rock star. Unlike a lot of people, it’s a goal that he achieved.

Formed in 1989, Junkhouse was, according to Wilson, a “bunch of knuckleheads from Hamilton.” Back then, Wilson believed the Juno award-winning group, would be a band that played the so-called 401 circuit, travelling up and down that highway from Detroit to Montreal and back again.

The group’s breakout song, Out of My Head took Wilson a matter of minutes to write but would change the lives of the members of the band.

“We were touring with acts that I only really dreamed about. Playing with people like Bob Dylan, being able to perform with my idols, really and being around that touring atmosphere. That part of it was exciting,” says Wilson.

“The fan in me loved it all. The artist actually watched the art fall out of it and the man pretty well lost his life to it for a little while.”

Wilson started living his life like he was the “belle of the ball” and fell into the grasps of addiction.

The three-time Juno award winner, who has now been sober for 22 years, says he was finding some way to destroy himself in order to distract himself from missing home.

Junkhouse released three albums before disbanding. Wilson has continued to perform with super-group, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Lee Harvey Osmond, the latter received a Juno Award in 2020 for the album, Mohawk.

Wilson is also an accomplished artist whose art has been displayed in Canada and the United States.

He doesn’t think of himself as an artist but picked up the brush around the second time he stopped drinking because he “wanted to do something constructive, instead of destructive” so he started painting instead of going to the bottle.

Wilson says discovering his identity at such a late age didn’t come with self-pity and hasn’t changed his values of sobriety, but it has come with a responsibility to honour his culture with every word he writes and every stroke of his paintbrush.

“The fact that I only found out by complete error that I’m a Mohawk is some kind of sick tribute to colonialism almost winning the fight, almost winning the game because the person that I was before was a complete product of colonialism. Who I am now, is a survivor of colonialism,” says Wilson

A documentary by Shane Belcourt about Wilson’s memoir, Beautiful Scars is also in works, as is a play. Wilson is also working on another book.

Host, Producer / Winnipeg

Dennis is Metis from southern Manitoba. After spending a decade working in TV in Alberta and Ontario, Dennis returned to Manitoba to join APTN’s Winnipeg bureau as reporter/correspondent in September 2014. In 2016, he won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for his story A Soldier Scorned for APTN Investigates. In 2017, he became a host/producer for APTN National News and Face to Face. In 2020, Dennis and co host Melissa Ridgen were nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best News Anchor, National.