Stratford salutes Justin Bieber

Canadian hometown exhibit commemorates pop star’s rise to fame


Mark Monteith didn’t expect his eighth-grade student, Justin Bieber, to leave town the summer after his class to pursue a music career. And Monteith would’ve never guessed young Bieber, who performed an original acoustic song for his English class, would become one of the world’s biggest pop star.

“He performed a couple of songs for the class. Songs that he wrote. He performed them solo ­­–– just singing and playing the guitar. They were quite good,” Monteith said.

Twelve-year-old Bieber was in and out of Monteith’s class at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School four times over the course of the school year, taking trips to Atlanta to visit Usher and manager Scooter Braun. But before he was a dominant force in popular music, Bieber was a student, performing on street corners in Stratford, Ontario, just 3 hours from campus.

“I think it's wonderful that he has achieved the world's recognition of his musical talent,” said Kim Booker, Bieber’s eighth-grade history teacher.

Booker recently saw her former student recognized at the Stratford Perth Museum’s brand new Steps to Stardom exhibit. The exhibit opened on Feb. 18 and highlights Bieber’s journey from a Canadian kid to a worldwide pop sensation. From awards to personal memorabilia, Steps to Stardom encompasses every bit of “Bieber Fever” while touching on the superstar’s Stratford roots.

“Beliebers” have been flocking from all over the U.S., including Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey and even Indiana just to see the exhibit. Over 1,000 fans attended the exhibit during its opening weekend –– a massive increase compared to the 20 attendees the museum gets on an average weekend.

“Colm Feore, who starred in the highest grossing Canadian film of all time lives here, yet it is Justin everyone talks about,” Booker said. “Justin has added to Stratford's already large tourist base because many people visit here to soak up some Bieber life.”

John Kastner, Stratford Perth Museum general manager, said the idea of commemorating Bieber has been tossed around for a while.

“It has been on our radar for a few years, and we get asked quite regularly why we don’t have something about Justin Bieber,” Kastner said. “The real key for me was when a former cabinet minister and a member of Parliament visited last summer and suggested we should think about it.”

Kastner met with Bieber’s grandparents, Bruce and Diane Dale, to discuss the idea of an exhibit. Bieber himself later gave the exhibit his seal of approval.

Sara Zilke, Exhibits and Collections Assistant at the Stratford Perth Museum, helped create the exhibit.

The exhibit was initially meant for a smaller gallery, according to Zilke, but fan excitement and media attention inspired the museum to do things on a larger scale. Steps to Stardom incorporates interactive fan sections, such as a chalkboard for fans to sign, but the main attraction is the Bieber memorabilia scattered around the exhibit.

“There’s a great mixture of objects included in Steps to Stardom. We have local, personal objects such as Justin’s library card, his minor hockey jacket, sport medals and notes from his performance during the Stratford Star Singing Competition,” Zilke said. “We also have awards such as a Juno, a Brit Award, MTV awards, platinum records and the iconic Teen Choice surfboards. A highlight of the exhibit is Justin’s drum kit which was purchased through the funds raised during a local benefit concert.”

Acquiring these items was easy thanks to help from Bieber’s family, according to Zilke.

“His grandparents wanted to share their special objects with Justin’s fans, and having an exhibit in Justin’s hometown museum was a natural fit. ...” Zilke said. “Many family members have been to the museum, including Justin’s mother Pattie Mallette, and have been very supportive of the exhibit.”

According to Kastner, museums are supposed to tell stories and Bieber’s is one that needed to be told.

“It covers his life, not just his career. It explores his childhood and how that set the foundation for his career,” Kastner said.

Brenton Blanchet is the senior arts editor and can be reached at