Tombstone Says: Hell-Ohhh Canada!

The Benson Barbershop Quartet performs Oh Canada! and the Star Spangled Banner. Photo by: Briana Sanchez/Arizona Sonora News Service
The Benson Barbershop Quartet performs Oh Canada! and the Star Spangled Banner. Photo by: Briana Sanchez/Arizona Sonora News Service

Canadians stormed Tombstone and the Border Patrol didn’t even flinch.

In mid-January, more people were walking down Allen Street, Tombstone’s main drag, wearing Canadian red and white than cowboy hats.

The town of approximately 1,800, according to Councilman Armando Villa, is dependent on tourism. To help draw more in, Villa helped create a new event called Tombstone at Twilight. The most recent one had a Canadian theme, to make the visitors from up north feel more at home.

Winter months in Arizona draw a large crowd of older, often retired, men and women. “Fifty percent of our tourist population in the winter months come from Canada,” said Gordon Anderson, owner of the Larian Motel and co-organizer of the Tombstone at Twilight events.

The Benson Barbershop Quartet kicked off the event with “Oh Canada!” and the “Star Spangled Banner” and provided entertainment throughout the evening.

Doug and Sharon Hocman drove their R.V. from Ontario, Canada, to Southern Arizona to escape the harsh winter. This was not the couple’s first visit to Tombstone, but it was their first time attending the Tombstone at Twilight event.

“It’s the locals that make it,” said Doug Hocman, “And it’s the atmosphere that keeps us coming back.”

Tourism is a vital part of keeping the small and historic town of Tombstone thriving. Tucked away 70 miles southeast of Tucson, quirky and intriguing events such as Tombstone at Twilight draw visitors to this historic town.

Tombstone kept its visitors entertained by staging three gunfights throughout the night. The loud bang of the guns shooting blanks drew in the crowd, while the wailing of a frightened young girl stole the show.

Allen Street houses the majority of the historic businesses. Their market revolves around tourists, not the small population of locals. Without tourists coming into Tombstone, the historic businesses have no hope of surviving solely on revenue from locals.

Because Tombstone has kept its Old Western flavor throughout the years, the businesses have capitalized on the nostalgia. Visitors to come to their stores, purchase souvenirs, take Old West photographs, grab a beer and experience the haunted ghost tours.

Villa and Anderson are both active members of the small Southern Arizona community, and see the need to increase tourism in their town. There are only four Tombstone locals organizing the event and they weren’t given any money from the town.

Currently, the Tombstone at Twilight event occurs on the last Saturday of the month. Villa hopes that they will be able to hold the events twice a month, drawing more tourists into Tombstone and bringing revenue to the local businesses.

Villa’s biggest challenge was convincing the local business owners to keep their shops open until 8 p.m., considering they usually close their doors around 4 p.m. A large majority of business owners in Tombstone come from an older generation.

Hollie Trissin, a seasoned employee at Russell’s Roadrunner W.F. Trading, admits that it is hard for the older employees to work late. “By four o’clock I’m ready to go home, make dinner and put my feet up,” said Trissin.

Villa explained that he “wanted to do something different,” to attract visitors to Tombstone. The influx of Canadians succeeded in making Tombstone at Twilight an exciting and lasting event.

Lauren Niday is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at laurenniday@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photos 

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