In search of Shania continued

Last updated at 16:57 21 October 2002

During my second trip to Canada in February I drove back north from Sudbury to Chapleau, where Shania's natural father lives.

An accident closed the highway and I had to turn back and head along the wilderness roads - in November 1987 Shania's parents were killed on such a road by a logging truck.

For an hour in fading light, I drove nervously through the everlasting trees, skidding occasionally on the snow. Once I slid to an ungainly halt just in front of a moose on an evening stroll.

For more than a century, Chapleau has been the biggest railway terminal between Montreal and Winnipeg. There is logging in abundance but little else in a town slowly wasting away.

I stayed in the Sportsman's Hotel, whose bar hinted it might have had a life once. But not in February. There were only a couple of regulars and a pair of snowmobilers from down south.

I ate breaded cutlets and spaghetti alone at Guy's restaurant where nobody smiled and watched as three hopelessly drunk ancient natives tried to negotiate a taxi home.

Six months after her parents died, Shania found a job singing in a Vegas-style revue at the Deerhurst Resort, just outside Huntsville, a charming resort town 125 miles north of Toronto and the centre of Muskoka or 'cottage country'.

Cottage is a misnomer as the weekend retreats, mostly built in wood, come with all mod cons and cost up to a million dollars. Shania is building her own place on a lakeside plot outside Port Cunnington, where neighbours include Goldie Hawn.

The locals boast that Lake of Bays is God's country. Tourists have been coming here since the 1870s. In 1896 Charles Waterhouse, son of a Yorkshire lawyer, built a summer house with 18 bedrooms, a dining room, a smoking lounge and a veranda overlooking Peninsula Lake.

The Lodge is still there, its ballroom still Deerhurst's musical hub, and the revue continues. It's still charming, intimate and fun to watch though the singers aren't half as pretty as Shania, who wore a dress much too tight and a Red Indian costume.

Lead dancer Lynn is an old friend of Shania while multi-instrumentalist Gilles Lanthier, who plays nightly in the Cypress Lounge, used to duet with her on the Motown classic It Takes Two.

Shania was married at Deerhurst and still visits. Now a year-round conference centre, it retains much of its charm.

There are indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a golf course which, under snow, doubles as a cross-country ski track. Heavenly Valley, which will keep a competent skier amused for a day (but no more), is half a mile away.

In summer it makes a luxurious (and much more expensive) end point after a few days' canoeing and portaging (when you have to carry the damn boat) through Algonquin Provincial Park. It's also a perfect base to explore Muskoka or the 1,000 islands of Georgian Bay.

Back in Toronto, my survival in the frozen north was a source of amusement. They have so much space within a three-hour drive but all that wilderness is semi-tamed.

The true Shania country is north of Muskoka above the Arctic watershed. A land where the rivers flow north into the Arctic Ocean.

Shania Twain: The Biography by Robin Eggar is published by Headline Books (£18.99). Shania Twain's new album, Up!, is out on November 18.

Travel facts

Air Canada (tel: 0870 524 7226) offers return flights to Toronto from Heathrow from £303. Fares from Manchester start at £362, from Glasgow £367.

Deerhurst Resort (tel: 001 705 789 6411; has a Great Escape package which includes an evening at the musical stage show. In winter, rates start from £167 per person per night, in summer from £251.

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