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Shania Twain Centre in Timmins is demolished


Timmins Times
By Len Gillis
December 3, 2014



The iconic Shania Twain Centre was demolished on Wednesday December 3. Wreckers shovels made quick work of the building. The centre was torn down to allow for the continuation of the Goldcorp Hollinger open pit mine.


The iconic Shania Twain Centre was demolished on Wednesday December 3. This photo shows how the centre looked in November as preparations were underway. The centre was torn down to allow for the continuation of the Goldcorp Hollinger open pit mine.


The iconic Shania Twain Centre was demolished on Wednesday December 3. The centre was torn down to allow for the continuation of the Goldcorp Hollinger open pit mine. This photo was taken in the winter of 2013.


The iconic Shania Twain Centre was demolished on Wednesday December 3. The centre was torn down to allow for the continuation of the Goldcorp Hollinger open pit mine. This photo was taken in the winter of 2013.

After nearly 15 years as a hoped-for iconic tourist attraction in Timmins, the Shania Twain Centre fell to a pair of wreckers shovels on Wednesday.

The building that was admired by fans and tourists from around the world is now nothing more than a pile of rubble waiting to be trucked away so that drilling and blasting work can continue on Goldcorp's Hollinger open pit mine. Planning for the building began back in 1999 and the centre was officially opened on Canada Day 2001.

It might have been an omen, but that July 1st was one of the coldest Canada Days in recent memory. It was cold, rainy, drizzly and just miserable. In nearby Cochrane, the big Canada Day truck races were cancelled because there was ice on the road.

Shania herself was unable to be at the opening of the Centre. Expectations ran high that she would be able to attend, but the fact she was pregnant at the time made that trip impossible.

Hardcore fans were able to cope with the Timmins weather, including 21-year-old Ben Abruzzi who drove 18-hours from Massachusetts to be the first person in line for the public opening. He was pleased with his visit.

"It was phenomenal. It was more than I could have hoped for," said Abruzzi back on that day.

Ontario's Tourism Minister at the time was Tim Hudak, who said he was more than impressed with the facility.

"It's outstanding," said Hudak. "Timmins has put itself on the map."

Also impressed was Will Saari, the City of Timmins tourism manager back then. His comments that day were prophetic.

"The trick now is to keep people interested in coming back and piquing the interest of first timers," said Saari.

"The focus is to keep the momentum going," said Saari. "We're going to make sure it's well marketed."

The new $5 million centre was expected to be the lifesaving tourist attraction Timmins sorely needed. For years, local wags had complained that the only thing of note ever to come out of Timmins were hockey players and ... well, many folks welcomed the idea of having a local shrine paying tribute to a country music sensation who was literally world famous.

If Springhill, Nova Scotia could have a building dedicated to the achievements of Anne Murray, certainly Timmins would do well to have a centre honouring the woman who was the best-selling female country music star in history.

That was the plan. For the first few years, it seemed to be working. Dozens of fans got together in Timmins every summer. They came from across North America to celebrate all things Shania, and it was all centred at the Shania Twain Centre.

Those gatherings only brought more attention to the Centre for many ordinary tourists who made a point of visiting when they were travelling through Northeastern Ontario.

Critics, many of them local, claimed that the location of the Centre was too far off the beaten path. They said no one would ever be able to find the building.

Still, people who came from around the world, were able to find it.

Part of the reason for the popularity was the fact the centre was partnered with the historic gold mine tour.

In the first year of operation, there were roughly 12,500 visitors. More than 7,600 went to the Shania Centre. Less than 5,000 took in the gold mine tour.

In the second year, attendance peaked at 14,567; there were 6203 at the mine tour and 8364 at the Shania centre.

Gradually interest in both the tours began to drop off and it meant the attractions were running in the red to the tune of about $320,000 per year.

LOSING MONEY

Tourism consulting expert Fran Hohol presented those cold, hard facts to Timmins city council back in 2011. Hohol was of the opinion that the centre could still assist the overall tourism mandate in the city. It was based on the assertion that for every single dollar invested in tourism by the City of Timmins, there was a payback of more than three dollars being spent by tourists in the city.

Hohol also told city council that neither the Shania Twain Centre nor the Gold Mine Tour was going to make money. It was a net loser she said. But by the same token, other facilities such as Science North in Sudbury, Hockey Heritage North in Kirkland Lake, the Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane and The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre in the Sault are also net money losers. She said they all rely on government subsidies.

City Council absorbed the report and got ready to discuss whether the city should continue supporting the centre.

Enter Goldcorp Porcupine Gold Mines (PGM). In 2012, as the company was outlining detailed plans for the Hollinger open pit, there were assurances that the drilling and blasting and other mining procedures would not hurt the Shania Twain Centre. In fact, pictures were released showing that a berm would protect the building from the impact of mining.

Then in January 2013, the bombshell was dropped at a City Council meeting when it was revealed that the City had been in negotiations with Goldcorp PGM and the city was declaring the Shania Twain Centre as "surplus to the city's needs".

Within a week, City Hall revealed that Goldcorp PGM was willing to pay $5-million for the STC building and the goldmine tour.

For many people in the city, it was vindication for their feelings that the Centre was a waste of money and not necessary. For others it was a sign of failure. Timmins had made a first-class effort toward the If-You-Build-It-They-Will-Come idea, but for whatever reason, the people didn't come.

SHOCK AND DISAPPOINTMENT

One man was particularly sad with the decision. Timmins architect Georges R. Quirion, the man who designed the Centre, remembered being shocked when he learned the news. He remembered going to Switzerland, meeting Shania Twain, explaining his design concepts, and getting her input and better yet, her approval. The announcement that the building would be torn down was not easy to accept.

"Oh well, I guess shock and disappointment. I was very, very heartbroken. Because again, I know the effort that was put into it there," he said.

Quirion said architects are really not supposed to live longer than their buildings, but he is glad he was able to design the Shania Twain Centre in the first place.

"I knew I had the opportunity of really trying to capture something. This was designed for a long time. Like it was meant to be timeless, to be part of the community and part of the landscape of the community," Quirion said.

"Yeah, I was really proud of it, extremely proud."

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