By Keith Sharp
So let’s engage Guy Lamarche, Manager Tourism & Events for the corporation of the city of Timmins Ontario in a game of Trivial Pursuit to highlight this Northern Ontario city’s rich musical and cultural heritage.
Lamarche, a lifelong resident of Timmins is responsible for staging the city’s Great Canadian Kayak Challenge Festival, to be staged over three days, August 26th to 28th this year which combines music concerts, carnival events, fireworks and both kayak and canoe races on the Mattagami River along with several other key cultural events on the calendar including the city’s summer concert series which engages many local bands and performers performers during a 14 week production of music.
Question: Name two famous Canadian artists associated with the city of Timmins and supply us with an anecdote about each artist.
Answer No 1: A young Maritime performer, Tom Connors, who had spent his formative years, Criss-crossing Canada was down on his luck when he arrived at Timmins’ Maple Leaf Hotel. Legend has it that Connors was a nickel short in trying to buy a 35-cent beer and had already put the cap back on the bottle when bartender Gaetan Lepine said he could have the beer and offered to buy Connors a second beer if he would unstrap that guitar of his and belt out a couple of songs. This triggered a 14-month engagement for Connors at the Maple Leaf Hotel which also resulted in a weekly spot on the city’s CKGB Radio station and the recording of eight 45 rpm records, setting the stage for the development of one of Canada’s greatest music icons.
Connors’ habit of stomping his feet in time with the music was turning the hotel’s wooden stage into sawdust so some bright spark cut a bunch of planks of ply wood for Connors to stomp on thus creating the `Stompin Tom’ motif for his stage name. A tribute to Stompin Tom Connors will be coming to Timmins this October.
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Answer No 2: A young singer by the name of Eileen Twain helped out the meagre incomes of her mother and stepfather by singing in local Timmins bars. When they were both killed in a traffic accident near Wawa Ontario, Twain was left as the sole provider for her brother and sisters, but a booking at the Huntsville Deerhurst Resort brought her to the attention of local record reps. Renamed Shania Twain, her country flavoured self-titled 1993 debut caused only a ripple of interest but when she hooked up with Def Leppard/Bryan Adams producer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, Twain re-wrote the genre for country-music crossover appeal with a second album “The Woman In Me” which sold over 20 million records globally in 1995 and her follow up “Come On Over” became the best-selling country album of all time with sales totalling over 40 million.
A museum honouring Twain, The Shania Twain Centre, was constructed at a reported cost of over $10 million and opened June 30th 2001 in Timmins but closed its doors February 1 2013 after averaging only 15,000 visitors per year instead of the 50,000 visitors that had been projected. Most of her artifacts were shipped to Las Vegas and the Goldcorp Mining Company bought the building for $5 million, demolished the Centre and turned it into an open pit mine!
Question: What is the historical significance of the band The Cowboy Junkies to the city of Timmins.
Answer: Band members Margo, Mike and Peter Timmins are direct descendants of Noah Timmins who founded Timmins in 1912 as a settlement camp for prospectors following gold discoveries in the Porcupine area of Northern Ontario. Three major mining settlements were established in this area; The Dome, Hollinger and McIntyre Mines which are still operational today, over 100 years since their inception and have produced more than 70 million ounces of gold compared to just 15 million ounces of gold that were mined during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon.
Question: What other established artists has Timmins produced.
Answer: Valerie (Lights) Poxleitner, Cindy Doire,( one half of Scarlett Jane with her partner Andrea Ramolo), Charlie Angus, a member of indie band, The Grievous Angels and L’Etranger, now serving as a Timmins’ MP for the NDP party, Bruce Watson, original guitarist with Scottish band, Big Country, The Sons of Maxwell’s Dave and Don Carroll (whose “United Breaks Guitars” single and video vilified the U.S airline for smashing their equipment) and Blackstone, an Aboriginal band which has created a strong national following, all credit Timmins as being their home town.
A 1977 graduate from the University of Ottawa, Lamarche has spent over 35 years in the Timmins area, creating special cultural events for the city with the exception of one brief, three-year foray south to North Bay where he worked for Ontario Northland Railway. Lamarche also spent time creating a $10 million Aboriginal Tourist Destination in Hearst, Ontario but his main focus has always been in ‘the city with a heart of gold’.
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Lamarche’s co-creation of the Timmins’ Great Canadian Kayak Challenge Festival was originated in 2008 when he was hired to produce events around a unique four centennial sequence of events which celebrated the history of the Timmins area. “We are probably the only place on this planet to celebrate four, back to back centennial milestones,” he boasts. “In 2008 we recognized the 100 year anniversary of mining exploration in this area which resulted in the establishment of the Hollinger, Dome and McIntyre Mines. In 2009 we celebrated 100 years of gold production, in 2011 we reflected on the Great Porcupine forest fire of 1911 and in 2012 we marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the City of Timmins.”
Lamarche, along with committee co-chair Jack Watson, introduced the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge as a way to incorporate recreational activities in association with the Mattagami River. “The Mattagami is not only a key element of this area’s recreation and leisure activities but it also provides the area with a key source of electricity and provides our drinking water,” Lamarche explained.
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From its modest beginnings, the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge has developed, over the past eight years, into one of the province’s top festivals as cited by Festival & Events Ontario. An event which has attracted key musical entertainment such as The Stampeders in 2014, Platinum Blonde and The Box in 2015 and a lineup of talent this year that includes classic rock bands Honeymoon Suite and Helix, Quebec’s Lipstick Rodeo, Ginger St James, Chelsea Crites and blues/guitarist A.K MacLeod.
Attracting major names to a city that’s an eight-hour drive and 680 kilometres north of Toronto may be a daunting task but Lamarche notes that the Timmins area has developed into a thriving tourist mecca and if the right money is available, major talent can be drawn to the region.
With his ‘Tourism Timmins’ organization having already amassed over $300,000 in corporate and government contributions for this year’s Kayak Challenge, Lamarche is expecting the most successful event yet, and with 2017 celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, plans are already taking shape for major events surrounding both Canada Day and next year’s Kayak Challenge.
The Timmins Porcupine Rotary Club is also busy coordinating shows of their own. In fact, on June 25, Scarlett Jane will open for Lee Aaron at Parkfest.
The City also recently welcomed the Timmins Festivals & Events Committee and the first major undertaking from this group is set for July 22-23 when ‘Rock on the River’ will see The Glorious Sons, Poor Young Things, The Standstills, All the Wasted Years, Monster Truck, Pop Evil, Smashing Satellites, Twentiest and Harvest take to the stage and as the name suggests, gives us rock on the river. Timmins is the place to be this year for music” concluded Lamarche.
Although Lamarche is approaching retirement age, he Is aware that he has helped forge a cultural legacy in Timmins and he is excited about the potential of a few (as yet to be named) projects which his department is working on for the next 12 months.