Memphis has Graceland, Liverpool has The Beatles Story. And until Jan. 30, Timmins, Ont., has the Shania Twain Centre.
That’s the day the city will lock the doors for the last time on the images and memorabilia that once belonged to the world’s top-selling country artist.
In late 2000, when Timmins set out to build the museum for $3.7-million, the Grammy-winning queen of country had two acclaimed albums under her belt, including one of the best-selling albums of all time. Two years later, her fourth album – another acclaimed success – landed on shelves. But after a greatest-hits collection in 2004, Ms. Twain began to fade from public view.
Last spring, the singer boxed up some of the awards and costumes from the centre and sent them to Las Vegas, where her new show Still the One plays at Caesars Palace. After selling more than 34 million albums worldwide, she follows in the footsteps of another top-selling Canadian darling, Celine Dion.
“Obviously her career is going in a new direction,” said Tom Laughren, mayor and lifelong resident of the city in Northern Ontario.
Timmins, on the other hand, is turning back toward a mine that the city was built alongside – one that’s been in and out of production since 1910, and is deep in the city’s DNA.
For a city proud of its industrial roots, progeny Ms. Twain once seemed like Timmins’s ticket to connect with a new kind of visitor. Even if the museum dedicated to her didn’t make money, it would enhance public culture, leaders reasoned. But with a fading star and a quiet tourist hub – the centre has been drawing 10,000 to 12,000 visitors annually – on its hands, city council conceded it was time to sell the land. To do so, it approached the same kind of company that donated the plot in the first place: a gold miner.
Goldcorp Inc. was approached by Timmins in 2011 as the museum’s $300,000 yearly operation costs weighed steadily heavier on city council. If a deal is struck this year, the miner is poised to flatten the centre and harvest the last of the gold from a historic open-pit mine abutting the plot. It’s a return to reality for Timmins’s economy, ever dependent on mining.
Construction on the 575-square-metre 6,200 sq. ft. centre was originally designed to enhance an adjacent tourist destination: the Timmins Underground Gold Mine Tour. The city thought its new addition, along with the historical site, would attract double the number of visitors, to around 20,000 people each year.
But that never happened. The mayor thinks major events changed the way people travelled: Sept. 11, SARS and the recession, to name a few. The council invested in consultants, and considered partnering with other northeastern Ontario centres, but ultimately it couldn’t be sure further investments would lead to an improvement in foot traffic.
Eyes began to wander to Goldcorp Inc., a major Canadian gold producer that started moving into the region about seven years ago. It began doing preliminary drawings, and then came the community meetings. “I think there was a realization on the council maybe this was the time to look at other opportunities,” Mr. Laughren said. The two sides are now working on a deal.
While fondness for Ms. Twain lingers in Timmins, the people who live in the city would gain, in Goldcorp, a partner to help close a 102-year-old mine that is fenced off and peppered with sinkholes.
Goldcorp’s plan is part mining, part restoration. First, the company will spend 10 years mining out the last approximately 800,000 ounces of gold, worth $1.3-billion. “After that, the land will be reclaimed and restored to a natural-like state for public use,” said Domenic Rizzuto, a manager of human resources and corporate social responsibility at Goldcorp. That process with take a few years.
“The myth that people build these centres to make money, I don’t necessarily think that’s the case,” said Mr. Laughren. “I mean, you hope they’ll break even, but really they are to … give the local people the opportunity to showcase the community by taking tourists through.” Next time, Timmins may do things differently.