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Could the Sault become a destination for music tourism? These folks think it can happen

Sault Chamber hosts The Mastering of a Music City in Sault Ste. Marie event; working group established locally to look at economic benefits of creating a 'music city'
Representatives of the music and tourism sector assembled for a panel to discuss the economic benefits of a music sector in Sault Ste. Marie at the Water Tower Inn Thursday as part of The Mastering of a Music City in Sault Ste. Marie event hosted by the local chamber of commerce. James Hopkin/SooToday

Tourism London’s culture and entertainment tourism director Chris Campbell believes that Sault Ste. Marie has the potential to become a music tourism destination. 

Campbell was one of five panelists to take part in Thursday’s ‘Mastering of a Music City in Sault Ste. Marie’ event at the Water Tower Inn, which was organized by the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce. 

“The possibilities are really endless,” said Campbell in his keynote address to representatives of the local music, tourism and business sectors. “You have something incredible in your future, and bringing it all together, I know you can do it, and it’s going to have a game-changing impact on your city.”

Tourism London latches on to music tourism  

When Campbell was given the keys to Tourism London in 2013 – after spending nearly two decades in the live music private sector – he was tasked with revamping a “very traditional leisure travel portfolio” into a culture and entertainment tourism one. 

“In the world of tourism and destination marketing today, music tourism is still to this day not really understood - in some cases, it’s either ignored or it’s placed as a byproduct, and not the primary economic driver that it is, or that it certainly has the potential to be,” Campbell said. 

At that time, Tourism London had no meaningful relationship with the music sector. The city itself had barriers, such as bylaws, which Campbell says was crippling the “night-time economy.” 

“When all of this started back in 2014 in London, we still had a bylaw on the books that prohibited dancing on patios. A Footloose bylaw, that’s where we came from,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. 

Five years later, London is considered to be a music tourism destination. 

The London Music Office was created by the city, and bylaws were updated in order to break down barriers for artists, venues and promoters. 

Stakeholders were brought in as part of Tourism London’s plan to develop a “buy-in” from the community at large. 

A music task force was created, and a music strategy for the city followed suit. A total of 12 key priorities were identified.  

The London Music Office carried out an audit or census of the local music scene in 2015, which found that there were 4,620 live shows, 875 music students living in the city, and that $7 million was earned by 1,200 music publishers and songwriters locally within that year. 

Four years after that music census was completed, London ended up hosting Juno Week, after the city was told, on more than one occasion, that it “never had a chance,” as Campbell put it. 

Music city concept growing across Canada

The ‘music city’ concept is growing across Canada, said Music Canada CEO and President Graham Henderson during his keynote address, delivered via pre-recorded video. 

Music Canada partnered with Canadian Chamber of Commerce to build a toolkit to show the way for local chambers interested in developing a local music economy. 

“They’re terrific advocates, they’re terrific convenors, they’re terrific pathfinders and of course, lots and lots of terrific business know-how that the music community itself can benefit from,” Henderson said.

Music city working group established in the Sault

Locally, Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce CEO Rory Ring is part of working group that’s been tasked with establishing a similar music city concept in the city.  

The music city working group also includes Donna Hilsinger (Algoma Fall Festival, Water Tower Inn), Greig Nori (Algoma Conservatory of Music) Sean Halliday (Local Immigration Partnership) and Josh Ingram (Downtown Association).    

Ring told those in attendance at the Mastering of a Music City in Sault Ste. Marie event that the working group hopes to put a spotlight on the city’s music talent, music tourism, venues, and hospitality sector. 

“We want a Music City Sault Ste. Marie that creates a music-based experience for education, recording and production, space activation around the city - to putting more heads in the beds for hotels and bums in seats for the venues,” said Ring. “It also fits really quite nicely within the recently passed community culture plan that was developed by Future Sault Ste. Marie and approved by city council a few weeks ago.”

“We also want to celebrate a vibrant music economy that drives value for our city in several important ways -–job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand building and artistic growth.”

Panelists for Thursday’s event included Campbell, Halliday, David MacLachlan with Destination Northern Ontario, Algoma University senior adjunct professor Paul Dingle and singer-songwriter Carole Pope.

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James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
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