Country Music Capitol of Canada Merritt BC

Written by Randy Owen – Last Updated Wednesday, 02 November 2016 12:06
27 years ago today, the first home of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame opened in Kitchener, Ont.! Singer, songwriter and producer Gary Buck had owned the copyright to the name, resulting in the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) recognizing the legends with their own Canadian Country Music Hall of Honour awards. At first, Gary’s plans in the late 1980’s were to open the Hall in an old converted school in Hamilton, Ont. (he once showed me the architecture plans), but renovation costs soon made that idea unlikely. His next plan was to have a pre-built structure assembled on the grounds of Sportsworld (an entertainment complex) in Kitchener. On Nov. 2, 1989, it was opened with Buck doing the official opening and then-Mayor Dom Cardillo and the legendary Lucille Starr among the attendees. I was on the advisory board and had several great moments at the Hall, including serving as tour guide for Johnny Cash and June Carter. Before a concert appearance across the highway at Lulu’s Roadhouse, Gary had invited them to the exhibit and asked me to show them around. Johnny and June donated several of their own items to the Hall. Since then, the Hall has moved to several different locations with the Hall of Fame and Hall of Honour merging in 1999. Gary passed away in 2003 as the lengthy merging process continued until 2009. By 2011, the CCMA owned the Hall of Fame trademark with the Hall located in Merritt, B.C. and the National Music Centre in Calgary currently exhibiting portions of the Hall of Fame collection on a rotating basis.

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The Merritt Country Music Hall of recollected by Michelle Loughery & Amber Papou

The community of Merritt has a long history of Music based on the Country Music History of Merritt Mountain Music Festival and a collection of artist handprints were in a trail that the community created to bring the success of the music festival to the downtown core. This inititiave also saw the community inviting the well know mural art trades program of Michelle Loughery Mural to Merritt, as a way to expand the handprint program with Murals.

The plaques got to Merritt based on the gift of the plaques to the Michelle Loughery youth project, as a way to help continue the youth project that was called the Merritt Walk of Stars Mural Project, a program of the work of the non profit group called the Merritt Walk of Stars.  This extremely successful group of music supporters completely rebuilt the branding of their community to be the Country Music Capitol of Canada, a community art & youth training model that was also a Loughery initiative in a duplicate program in the ROUTE 66 Mural city in Cuba, Missouri

The story goes like this….Amber Papou and Michelle Loughery were socializing at a gala event at the CCMA Award show weekend in Winnipeg . In social conversations at the First Nations hosted dinner event two gentlemen started to ask about why we were there. After talking about the murals, and the handprints, and the amazing first Nations skills youth skills mural community revitalization project, one of the gentlemen said , well we have the Hall of Fame plaques and we don’t know what to do with them as they are at Stampede grounds, but they need a home.. Would your project like them to help build up the community and the project so more youth and the community can be helped. We(Amber & Michelle) of course jumped on the opportunity and ran to grab Ron Sanders the lead and passion to the Country Music Capitol of Canada to tell him about the offer. The naming of the County Music Capitol of Canada was also a suggestion from the Youth Project duo to the city of Merritt.. The determination to copy the heritage revise that Loughery’s project had helped the City of Vernon and Cuba, Missouri.  Amber then talked to Claude, owner of the Mountain Music Festival, who assisted her in the proposal to get the plaques from the Stampede grounds to Merritt. The crazy drive and pick up of the plaques took place with Michelle’s husband Rick, his RCMP brother and Rob Creelman..a crazy old horse trailer and a road trip…Life is always a roadtrip. And this one a great one for Merritt.

With this additional tool to help the city and the hard work of an entire community with great visionaries such as CCMA Hall of Fame visionary, Ron Sanders, Rick Passmore, Amber Papou, Peter Moyes, Chris Langhuag and so many more, the great vision not only the coming together to build the CCMA Hall of Fame but a global attraction for BC and a catalyst for the 8 million dollar city renewal. Now the globally known CCMA Hall of Fame, Walk of Stars Mural and Handprint Tour and the CCMA Hall of Fame is building incredible music and history programming .

The creative rural philosophy of art and employment skills was the steam socio-economic program that brought much of the economic funds to the building of the Hall of Fame and Walk of Stars Programs. The community has a group of very dedicated champions that have given countless dollars and time to the on going legacy of the CCMA Hall of Fame in Merritt. The branding of this community and the youth project that has been duplicated Globally will leave a legacy that is a large as the body of work of the musicians that have played nationally and in so many kitchens, back yards and music fests.  People are brought together by the power of the creators and the songs we sing…..

more on this story of the plaques and the music murals in Merritt to come.




The Merritt Walk of Stars Society initial intent was that Michelle would come to Merritt and provide advice on mural projects and determine whether such a project would be viable for Merritt. However, as our discussions with Michelle proceeded it became abundantly clear that although such a project could work in Merritt, it would require an administrator who not only has strong business acumen, but who is also experienced in order for it to succeed.
Michelle has been invited to paint murals and attend mural and art conferences as part of an elite group worldwide; she understands the processes for accessing money from government programs both federally and provincially; she knows how to access businesses and private bursaries; and she has developed proven fundraising methods including dinners, auctions, limited-edition print and art-card sales. The proof of her abilities is evident throughout downtown Vernon, where Michelle used her skills and those of local artists and youths at risk to create the 32 murals that adorn the buildings in that city.
Ron Sanders
President, Merritt Walk of Stars


By on September 21, 2005

The Merritt Walk of Stars had excellent representation at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Calgary.
A team made up of Amber Papou, Ron Sanders, Peter Moyes and Muralist Michelle Loughery all attended the prestigious country event to promote what the program has been doing in Merritt.Papou mentioned it was a whirlwind of a time that included being on their feet from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day.
“Overall there were some fun moments but it was mostly a lot of work,” she said. “It was a blur, we talked to so many people.”The group managed to hand out more than a large number of the Walk of Star’s information packages. The package included information on all of the Walk of Star’s initiatives including the muraling project, star walk and facades project. The package also showcases Merritt as the Country Music Capital of Canada. There is even a promotional DVD that features Harley Carman’s Merritt Song.
Sanders said people in the industry are starting to take notice of Merritt.“They like Merritt,” he said. “The artists want to come back once they’ve been here.”“All the people I talked to were very keen on the project,” added Papou. “We made so many contacts with industry people, some of them major players in the business.”Sanders went on to say that, in regards to the Walk of Stars, the muraling project has added a lot. It’s all part of the groups attempt to reach bigger crowds and create awareness.One main focus will now be reaching the bigger media and even CMT.“We really need to do more work there,” said Sanders in regards to CMT. “We would like them to come up when an artist signs a mural.”Of course, having the Merritt Mountain Music Festival win best festival at the awards certainly helped get the Merritt name in people’s minds.“Everybody knows about MountainFest,” Sanders said. “It’s important for Merritt to get that exposure and in the end artists coming to town will make that happen.”
Sanders also had the chance to visit the nearby town of Cochrane which has it’s own facade program that was done by Urban Systems.“It was working very well for them,” he said.A sign that the Walk of Stars’ program is working was that nearly every artist at the CCMAs already has their very own star on the walk. Also early every artist at the CCMAs already had their own star already in Merritt.Next for the Walk of Stars is the British Columbian Country Music Awards, in which they have been asked to take part. It will be another chance to promote their work in Merritt.

Merritt made its presence known at the Canadian Country Music Awards this year.
For a number of years,representatives from Merritt have attended the annual awards show. The ambassadors included Ron, Shelley and Rachael Sanders, Michelle Loughery and Amber Papou, all representatives of the Walk of Stars and the Merritt Youth Mural Project.This year they found people knew who they were and asked more questions about the city and the projects underway here.
“Attending these things really broadens Merritt’s image in the industry,” explains Ron Sanders. “Everyone knows about Merritt, but not everyone knows about the Walk of Stars.”He adds that Claude Lelievre also attends the event, but he doesn’t promote the city as much as they do because he is representing the Active Mountain Entertainment and the Merritt Mountain Music Festival.Sanders says it is important that they network because, not only does it help them make contacts, but they also get ideas of other events they can organize and ways to improve the ones they already hold. At this year’s awards in Regina they met with a number of artists who have already committed to coming to Merritt to support the city and the Walk of Stars.He says it is also important that CMT is one of their biggest supporters.“CMT is a huge catalyst in country music,” he explains. “They are convinced [Merritt] is the place to be.”Loughery agrees it is essential that Merritt have a presence at events like the CCMAs.“It is exhausting because there is so much to do – so much networking,” she says. “But people are really listening to what we are doing. It’s about getting our name out there.”She says it was clear that people who have been to Merritt and have seen her Merritt Youth Mural Project are interested in learning more.“People are really interested in the youth aspect of the project,” she explains, “and they want to learn more about what we are doing for them and how it helps them.”She says having a group at the awards is important because each time they are seen they become more recognizable and people will approach them and ask about the program.“In the end Merritt will benefit,” she says. “People will know who we are and what we’re doing, and they will support the town.”