Sault Ste. Marie makes case to be Canada's next 'music city'

Sault Ste. Marie’s strong musical history could make it Canada’s next music city. The city’s chamber of commerce has made a push for that designation, in an effort to attract tourists and music industry jobs.

Rich musical heritage can be good for local economy, says chamber of commerce

Shaun Antler shows her Soo Music Project binder at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum. (Supplied by Shaun Antler)

Sault Ste. Marie's strong musical history could make it Canada's next music city.

The city's chamber of commerce has made a push for that designation, in an effort to attract tourists and music industry jobs.

"A music city is really recognized by the industry itself, working together to bring recognition that it is a very significant economic opportunity," said Rory Ring, the CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce. "For example, in Ontario, live music had 10,500 full time equivalent jobs as a result of their direct activity, the activity of their suppliers and of spending that labour's income in the wider economy."

Ring said Music Canada runs a program with chambers of commerce across the country to recognize music cities. In Ontario, Hamilton, Guelph and London are recognized as music cities.

In 2019, London's status as a music city helped it make a strong case as a Juno Award host.

"If you want to talk about a stretch target, it certainly would be an amazing opportunity for us to host the Junos in a place like Sault Ste. Marie," Ring said. "The experience of getting out into the region and seeing the nature and the lifestyle that a community like ours represents can be an attractive part of recruitment of trying to build our community into a larger impact within Ontario."

Ring said the chamber of commerce has formed a task force with 20 individuals who have ties to the music industry. The next step will be to form an advisory committee to build a strategic plan and make the case Sault Ste. Marie should be recognized as a music city.

Web developer and musician Bill Cowen created the Soo Music Project website. (Supplied by Shaun Antler)

The Soo Music Project

Beyond the chamber of commerce's efforts for an official designation, a group of Sault Ste. Marie volunteers, and music lovers, have taken on their own project to recognize the city's rich musical heritage.

It took almost four years to compile, but the Soo Music Project is a digital repository of almost 2,000 musical artists who have called Sault Ste. Marie their home.

Shaun Antler, who worked for 13 years as the artistic director of the city's Rotary Community Days festival, started to document local musicians in 2017.

"When the pandemic struck and I was kind of locked down at home, I pulled that project off the back burner and made it into kind of a research project, a passion project, if you will," she said.

That passion project led to a binder with around 2,000 bands and artists who have been involved with Sault Ste. Marie's music scene.

Antler later teamed up with Bill Cowen, a web developer and musician, to digitize her work and host it on the web. 

"I hope future generations will be able to go back and maybe look up their relations, their relatives really see what the music scene was all about and Sault Ste. Marie," she said.

Antler said musicians can log into the website and update their information to keep it current. She hopes it can serve as an evolving record of the city's music scene.

Cowen had previously developed a similar website for the arts council in Victoria, British Columbia. Antler said his experience was that people were honest when they updated information on that website.


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