Alex Gagnon is an entrepreneur that deals in thrills.
He also dreams of putting Timmins on the map as a top tourist destination in Northern Ontario.
For the past three years, the owner of Timmins Fitness Alternatives has served his hometown with a menu of off-the-wall activities.
Now, he's turning his attention to an even bigger attraction: the unoccupied Hollinger headframe.
Located in downtown Timmins, the headframe is part of the historical Hollinger Gold Mine, which was operational between 1910 and 1968. Standing at 60 metres tall, it's the tallest man-made structure in town.
If Gagnon has his way, the headframe will soon become "an adventure tourism location."
Picture visitors scaling its exterior on a via ferrata (Italian for "iron path"), which is a climbing route, popularized in Europe, that uses cables and rebar.
The idea came from the property's owner and Gagnon's supporter, Antonio Kos, a Timmins physician who also owns the nearby Hollinger Golf Club.
His family were mountaineers in northern Italy. The via ferrata is a good way to honour this tradition.
Kos jokingly suggested that Gagnon could climb the structure provided he paint it on the way down.
From the panoramic view of the city atop the headframe, climbers can rappel, or, if they are feeling really adventurous, “house-run” down the wall to the ground.
If they can get the route installed this spring, Gagnon said it will be North America's first via ferrata on a man-made structure.
The climbing experience will also feature a historical tour of the property, where guests can participate in an “escape-the-mine” activity.
Being a family physician, Kos is very interested in promoting physical activity.
“We're moving forward with the idea,” he said. “The headframe is a landmark and we would like to keep it active. This is something we can promote as an alternative for people seeking a healthy lifestyle.”
But the plan doesn't end there. Gagnon intends to build a World Chase Tag obstacle course, a new sport developed in the last couple of years, a combination of parkour, ninja, and tag.
Gagnon is in talks with the organizers of World Chase Tag, with the intention of hosting the national qualifiers at the location.
The complex will also hold a climbing wall and spaces to host most of the activities he's offered at Timmins Fitness Alternatives.
After completing his studies in psychology, science, and communications, Gagnon returned to his hometown to help his mother at her new print shop.
A year later, Gagnon branched out on his own, investing in some giant, inflatable bubble suits to rent out to groups and events.
He drove down to Toronto every weekend to achieve his certification as an aerial silk and bungee fitness instructor.
Gagnon offers 11 different classes each week, adding calisthenics (body weight training), tree-climbing, and parkour to the mix.
The company also hosts underwater sports, like hockey, rugby, and football; AquaPole classes, which is an apparatus that lets people train with a stainless steel pole underwater; and an invention of Gagnon's called Drape Flight, which combines aerial silks with a suspended pole.
One of his most intriguing attractions is the Spy 'N Seek covert missions, which lets players running around the city pretend to be spies and participate in a scavenger-hunt/escape room-like game.
The Hollinger Headframe will be his base camp for youth summer camps, fitness boot camps, corporate retreats, birthday parties, and once-in-a-lifetime activities for tourists.
The timeline for the project is still a rough estimate. Over the next year, Gagnon hopes to clean up the site, assess the building, and install the via ferrata. He is aiming for a 2021 opening.
It's an ambitious project, to say the least. But it's already gained some traction.
In late November, Gagnon became one of the first three winners of the Northeastern Ontario Spark grant and mentorship program after successfully pitching his idea to judges at the Northern Ontario Tourism Summit in Timmins.
He walked away with a $3,000 startup grant and the opportunity to be mentored by an industry professional.
Timmins' tourism manager, Guy Lamarche, who referred Gagnon to the Spark program, describes him as “extremely passionate, somewhat of a visionary, and while young, seasoned in his business approach.”
Lamarche hopes that a location like this would keep visitors engaged in something unique while they visit the city.
Gagnon has already approached the city to determine his next steps, including rezoning.
While the headframe property is still categorized as a mining area, the location is unique, with a number of recreational areas nearby, including the golf course, a baseball field, and a public park.
The neighbouring Dome Pit, owned and operated by Newmont, will be closing within the next two to three years.
The legacy plan would see the area turned into parkland and a public beach.
“In terms of the future of the community, the city would consider all of these things and the rezoning process would be open to public consultation as well,” said Timmins CAO Dave Landers.
“Alex is really in the process. The project sounds cool. It's nice to hear people thinking something really different for our community.”
Gagnon ultimately hopes that the new attraction would reinvigorate the city's image as a tourist destination.
“The Shania Twain Centre (which officially closed in 2013) brought people here. But one thing it had trouble doing was getting people to stay longer during their visits and come back,” he said.
“That's my goal with this. There's so much to offer that people won't have time to do it all at once.”
Kos notes that this is not the only plan he has for the Hollinger complex. In the future, he is considering turning parts of the facility into a recording studio and an arts and entertainment centre.