V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer

Stars who've put their hometowns on the map

Published online at www.msn.ca, August, 2010.

From shrines dedicated to hometown heroes, to mapped tours guiding fans to celebrity hangouts, we'll take you to the small towns where some of the biggest stars and musicians were raised. Click the arrows to get started.

Shania Twain, Timmins, Ontario

You know you’ve made it when your hometown erects a shrine of museum proportions  in your honour. The Shania Twain Centre opened in 2001 and is 11,500 square feet of all things Shania: live concert simulations, backstage concert experiences, interactive musical exhibits and even Shania Twain memorabilia. All the more impressive given the lady’s still alive and kicking.  As the mayor says in his welcome page, the centre was built to “celebrate her successes and her growth from a young artist in Timmins to international superstar,” and is the town’s biggest attraction — calls to to Tourism Timmins are handled by the same peeps at the Shania Twain Centre. In her own words, looks like she made it. Look how far she’s come now (baby)...

Avril Lavigne, Napanee, Ontario

For a while, this pint-sized singer spawned mobs of her own doppelgangers, as legions of girls flat-ironed their hair, lined their eyes with too much kohl-black eyeliner and deliberately poked holes in their fishnet stockings, pairing them with rocker Doc Martens. Recognizing Avril’s star power and her ability to lure in armies of pre-teen, tween girls, the Napanee & District Chamber of Commerce produced a self-guided tour map of Avril’s favourite haunts, including her favourite pizza joint, La Pizzeria which created a pie in her honour; Marie’s Place Music Emporium, where she bought her first guitar; and the local Skater Bowl, where many a Sk8ter Boi can be found wishing they were a super star, slamming on a guitar...

Justin Bieber, Stratford, Ontario

Bieber fever shows no signs of abating and continues to rage on, as hysterical little girls the world over swoon at the sight of the 16-year-old’s side-swept Bieber bob, “Flip and Switch” and his girlish, pretty boy looks. You could say that a true measure of fame is when your surname can be used interchangeably as both noun — the Bieber, Bieber bob — and adjective — Bieber-iffic. To satisfy his rabid, young-blooded, often hysterical fan base, the city of Stratford has created a map that takes visitors along “Justin’s Stratford.” The tour includes a stop at 99 Downie Street where Justin would busk throughout tourism season and made up to $200 a day — enough to take his mom to Disneyworld. His favourite post-soccer game hangout was Scoopers, a popular ice cream parlour. And — gasp — fans can even visit the site of young Bieber’s first date at King’s Buffet, where he spilled a plate of spaghetti and meatballs all over himself. But don’t worry, maniacal fans, the pair never dated again.

Britney Spears, Kentwood, Louisiana

They all start the same way. The dozens of in-depth, intimate E! True Hollywood specials, MTV diaries, VH1 Behind the Musics, and other assorted international docu-bios begin in Kentwood, La., where the gifted, unusually driven tot was raised in a modest home in a small town, so says the voice of a sombre, anchorman narrator. Grainy photos show images of a stage tot, smiling a toothless grin in her sequined bodysuit;  a group shot of Brit and her high school basketball team; and a portrait of a happy couple at their prom when Spears was still, ahem, virginal and sane. Whether they like it or not, this small town of 2,656 people will forever be tied to BritBrit. Her most definitive claim to this town, however, is the McMansion she’s dubbed Serenity, a palatial family home that holes up the Spears sisters when they’re in the baby way (Jamie Lynn) or when a little crazy comes their way (Britney).

Rachel McAdams, St. Thomas, Ontario

While Hollywood’s latest “It” girl  is often connected to London, Ontario, McAdams was actually raised in neighbouring St. Thomas, a small city once dubbed “The Railway Capital of Canada” for being an important railway junction in the early twentieth century. Before she caught the acting bug, McAdams was a competitive figure skater and spent hours at the Elgin St. Thomas Memorial Community Centre. But she also showed off her acting chops from an early age with the Original Kids Theatre Company in London, Ont., and amateur productions of Shakespeare. She also won an award for her role in a student production featured in the Sears Ontario Drama Festival, a provincial competition for high school drama students. Another famous St. Thomas export is NHL player Joe Thornton.

Sarah Palin, Wasilla, Alaska

Many a tourist has descended upon Wasilla, Alaska in search of the former vice-presidential candidate’s home to answer this one, burning question: Can you, indeed see Russia from Sarah Palin’s house? Some “refudiate” her claim (a recent Palinism, or made-up word from her canon of tweets). They also go hoping for a taste of her famous moose chili, and to hunt “wascaly wolves” with other NRA members. Perhaps get a pair of her signature rectangle glasses and pose with a cardboard cutout of the former beauty queen. Despite Palin’s vice-presidential defeat and resignation as Alaskan governor, Palin continues to draw tourists to her sleepy little town with organized tours built around her favourite haunts. The Mocha Moose, for instance, is where Palin gets her “skinny white chocolate mocha,” according to an Associated Press story. The coffee shop also sells Palin paraphernalia that includes sweatshirts, buttons, bumper stickers. You betcha!

Sarah Jessica Parker, Nelsonville, Ohio

Long before Ms. SJP was the first lady of New York City, our favourite, fictional sex columnist was a spunky little demoiselle who danced and pirouetted her way around the small town of Nelsonville, Ohio where she was born. One of eight children, Sarah grew up poor and would help support the family from her singing and dancing gigs. When she scored a role in the Broadway production of The Innocents, her parents shipped the family off to New Jersey, to help develop their daughter’s talents. Ironically, the mining town of Nelsonville is lined with brick roads, each one emblazoned with stars. Seems fame was in SJP’s stars.

Brad Pitt, Springfield, Missouri

Maybe it was the fresh mountain air, or his Southern Baptist roots, but whatever it was, this middle-American suburb brought up a man who is now universally acknowledged as being one of the most beautiful men in the world, Brad Pitt. Nicknamed The Queen City of the Ozarks, Springfield sits atop the largest mountain range in the country, the Ozark, and is home to 154,777 inhabitants. Pitt attended Kickapoo High School, where he was a member of the golf, tennis, swimming, and forensics teams, and performed in musicals and school debates. In 1982, his classmates voted him Best Dresser. He went on to the University of Missouri and majored in journalism until dropping out to pursue acting. Unlike other celebrities who’ve forever renounced their humble beginnings, Pitt revisits his hometown regularly to visit family and is also a generous benefactor. Last year, Pitt and his younger two sibling donated $1 million to St. John’s Hospital in the city for a new pediatric cancer centre. He and his brother also donated $600,000 to help Drury University build an LEED-certified green sporting arena. Despite his adulterous affair with his now Misses, “Ang,” we think Pitt is good peeps.

Heidi Montag, Crested Butte, Colorado

Reality TV’s favourite man-made, platinum blond, plastic, very maybe flammable singer/designer/actress and media ho actually hails from a small, ski resort town in Colorado, Crested Butte, where her family owns a popular restaurant, The Timberline. Whenever this tortured, hard-up, reality (s)tartlet underwent life’s cruelest hardships — creepy scraggly, bearded boyfriend with control issues, or recovery from her new, plastic face —The Hills star would run to her hometown and seek the wisdom of mom Darlene, whom she would later sick the cops on for deigning to visit her daughter unannounced. We think Montag should cease and desist from more attempts at fame-dom and just head for the hills — the ones in her picturesque town that is. Maybe the fresh mountain air will do the girl some good and make her snap out of this Hollywood-induced coma.

Oprah Winfrey, Kosciusko, Mississippi

She is a talk show diva whose reach and influence is studied in college and university courses in America. Whole shows are dedicated to exploring “The Oprah Effect” as a stamp of approval from the queen of talk is a surefire way to turn a modest business into a million-dollar success story. But, as everyone knows by now, hers is the true rags to riches tale which started in Kosciusko, Mississippi, where she was born and raised in abject poverty until she moved at the age of six. Raised on a pig farm by her grandmother, Winfrey was so poor she often wore dresses made of potato sacks. But her humble beginnings would lay the foundation for her unmatched success in broadcasting. By the age of three, Winfrey’s grandmother had taught her how to read and at her local church was nicknamed “The Preacher” for her ability to recite Bible verses. Take the Oprah Winfrey Road and you’ll pass her first church, now the Buffalo Community Centre, her family cemetery and the site of her birthplace. Winfrey also returned to her hometown a few years ago to establish the Boys & Girls Club for her community. “As a little girl growing up here in this town, I started dreaming about my own possibilities,” she said on her site. “So I wanted to build a place where other children could start creating their own dreams.” It’s the Oprah effect in full action.

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