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Last week, Timmins city council announced the Shania Twain Centre, the city’s 11-year, multi-million-dollar bid to lure tourists to the heart of Northern Ontario, was coming to an ignominious end.
Responding to Timmins’s entreaties, Vancouver-based Goldcorp bought the property for an undisclosed sum and, within a few years, the site of the 12,000-square-foot centre will be part of a new mining project. “I think they probably are going to take the buildings down,” said Tom Laughren, Timmins mayor.
Two small Canadian mining towns, both of whom spawned famous singers, yet one attraction lives while the other dies. The reason, it turns out, may be a fable of nostalgia versus modernity, grassroots gumption versus government bungling and the cruel twists of highway geography.
“She’s our hometown girl,” said Maxwell Snow, Springhill’s mayor. Until their favourite daughter became the CanCon selection of choice in the mid-1960s, Springhill was mostly known to Canadians as the site of two devastating mine disasters.
Describing the Anne Murray Centre’s late-1980s origins as “grassroots,” employee Marcie Meekins said it was spawned by some volunteers with the Springhill Industrial Commission who teamed up with her mother Marion. They raked together grants and established the small, brick centre, which is open seasonally and run by a volunteer board.
Meanwhile, 2,000 kilometres away in Springhill, N.S., the humble shrine to Canada’s other great female country singer, Anne Murray, is set this summer to ring in its 24th year: the same age at which its namesake recorded the breakout hit, “Snowbird.”
The Shania Twain Centre, meanwhile, was birthed by city council decree.
In the late 1990s, at the height of Ms. Twain’s career, citizens noticed fans poking around for Twain-related monuments or landmarks. Local officials on the lookout for an attraction to complement their longstanding Underground Gold Mine Tour got an idea.
“The initial thought was that, if these people are already coming to Timmins, let’s give them something more to see,” said Tracy Hautanan, the centre’s former manager.
A delegation approached the singer, who responded with offers of gold records, memorabilia, even her tour bus and a surplus stage.
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