It’s fine if you need to look at a map to find Sudbury, Ontario. It’s generally not the first place one thinks of when planning a holiday. It’s known for mining and smelting nickel-copper ore, and having a superior cardiac surgical program in Canada. As well as having a 30 ft twelve-sided coin known as the Big Nickel.
Memories of Sudbury
As a child, my dad would pile us into the car and make the four-hour drive to my aunt’s house in Copper Cliff. It’s a “company” town, home to a 1,250 ft (381 metres) superstack chimney and housing for INCO (now Vale Canada) workers.
The Sudbury Basin is one of the largest, and oldest, impact craters in the world – dating back 1.9 million years. The rock debris in the basin is 62 km long and 30 km wide and contains nickel-copper ore, platinum, cobalt, and gold.
The rock debris across the street from my aunt’s house has a 50s-style Mickey Mouse on the side. We spent hours as kids climbing Mickey Mouse Mountain, which is shorter than a two-storey house. Sometimes, my uncle would take us to watch liquid slag pour out of big cauldrons. It looked like lava, a cool sight to a kid who doesn’t live in a mining town.
I loved our trips to Copper Cliff and Sudbury. I loved the smell of lilacs wafting through the kitchen windows. My aunt made the best butter tarts and was constantly trying to hide them from my uncle and dad. They were relentless in their desire to eat all the tarts, no matter the hour.
There were long summer nights and copious amounts of butter tarts. Family history quests, and hangouts around the dining table where my grandmother gave birth twelve times.
I carried all these memories with me on my recent return to Sudbury.
The Big Nickle + Copper Cliff
As kids, the Big Nickel was a beacon of hope. It stood on the rocks beside Regional Road 34, a sign that we were less than 10 minutes from my aunt’s house in Copper Cliff.
Erected in 1964, the Big Nickel is 30 ft tall and resembles a twelve-sided 1951 Canadian Nickel. The nickel stood on a rectangular stone pedestal, and stopping to take family photos was a must.
After dropping my luggage at the hotel, driving to the Big Nickel was the first thing on my list. I’ll be honest, I was sad to discover that it’s no longer visible from the road to Copper Cliff. Instead, it’s hidden behind Dynamic Earth, an earth sciences museum that chronicles Sudbury’s mining history.
Copper Cliff hasn’t changed much. My aunt and uncle are gone now (my dad, too), and my cousins have moved. The house on Power Street still looks the same and across the street, Mickey Mouse Mountain is looking a little brighter after a recent touch-up.
Watching nightly slag dumps is no longer possible (thankfully), and the creek is still copper orange, even though they try to disguise it.
An industrial city in Northern Ontario, Sudbury is making changes to become more sustainable. In 1978, a lot of the land around Sudbury was barren. Years of logging and sulphur emissions took their toll on the vegetation and soil. To counter these negative effects of mining, the city started a regreening program.
3,400 hectares were limed and grassed, and trees were planted. In 2002, the Jane Goodall Reclamation Trail was opened by Dr. Jane Goodall. This 1 km trail is a testament to the progress made by the regreening program. Today, it continues to thrive, a lovely walking path with calming outlooks.
Sudbury’s environmental and sustainability plans include community gardens, a net zero carbon emissions by 2050 commitment, and a lake water quality program (there are 330 lakes in and around Greater Sudbury).
A Seriously Large Mural
I, like most visitors to Sudbury, was struck by the sight of a brick building splattered with vibrant colours. A rainbow washed over a large façade is hard to miss. It’s the largest mural I’ve ever seen, in fact, it’s considered the largest mural in Canada. I pulled over immediately and pulled out my camera.
From 1950 to 2010, this was St. Joseph’s Hospital. It was the first English-speaking hospital in Northern Ontario and is known for its trauma care. I have my own connection to this hospital. This is where my cousin and uncle rushed my dad when he was in the midst of a massive heart attack. They saved his life, and I remember being too scared to enter his room because of all the wires and tubes attached to him.
After closing its doors, the hospital was eventually sold to a private developer who had plans to turn it into condos. That idea was halted in 2017. Two years later, as part of the Up Here Festival, 90% of the hospital’s façade was painted. Transforming the brown building that could easily be ignored, into a vibrant piece of art that never goes away. This shows the freshly muraled hospital.
Unsurprisingly, many locals think of this mural as an eyesore. There is a chainlink fence surrounding the building, graffiti, and broken windows. Having the nation’s largest mural for six years is cool, but it’s okay to replace it with something else. In my pipe dream, the city buys this land back and uses it for a community space.
These Murals Are Pretty Cool
Murals started popping up in Sudbury around 2013, with Sudburians at the Market. Four murals popped up that year, and then, in 2015, the We Live Up Here festival began. Today, murals are scattered throughout Downtown Sudbury (and beyond). There is even a guided tour and an app (Up Here) for those who prefer self-guided experiences.
Did you know Alex Trebek was from Sudbury? In 2021, a year after his death, a mural of Alex was painted on the Sudbury Secondary School. Montréal artist Kevin Ledo chose a 1970s design, complete with Trebek’s classic mustache. It’s a fitting tribute to a legendary Canadian icon.
I am captivated by the Under ground mural depicting a female miner. Painted by Jarus, a Saskatoon muralist whose grandfather worked underground at Falconbridge. The mural is a nod to the first women who took blue-collar jobs at INCO in the mid-1970s. The first time women were allowed to work in the mines since WWII. These women worked in hostile conditions that we cannot fathom today. They were often single moms who were desperately trying to provide for themselves and their children. Today, mining is progressive, with women working alongside men from blue-collar jobs to upper management.
Did you know Sudbury is 32% francophone? It is! Scores of French Canadians arrived in Sudbury in 1883, along with the railway. They came to work in the mines and forests. In 1913 the Jesuits opened a French language school, Sacred Heart College, which later became the University of Sudbury in 1957.
There were struggles, particularly in the 1970s, which led to a distinctive Frano-Ontarian culture. They established a theatre, art gallery, and emerging music festival. Today, there are six French-language high schools in Greater Sudbury. Francophones will find strong communities in the neighbourhoods of Flour Mill and New Sudbury. Arts programs at Place des arts, festivals, and more.
butter tarts and beyond
My time in Sudbury was short, but enough time to realize that there is a scrumptious food scene in the city. Butter tarts were high on my food list. Nobody will make butter tarts as delicious and gooey as the ones my aunt made, but the ones at Golden Grain Bakery (circa 1936) and Pinchman’s came pretty close!
In town for the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) conference, I had the opportunity to go on a food tour, as well as a hosted dinner. The food at Le Bistro (at Place des arts) was fresh, flavourful, and filling. The Alibi Room served up fancy cocktails, and dinner at Respect is Burning still makes my mouth water – the lamb, beef carpaccio… literally everything they served was on point.
I ventured on my own and savoured the brews and bites at 46North Brewing, and bought sweet treats at Regency Bakery. Knowhere Public House makes a mean Ceasar and small bites. DiGusto was a miss for some, but the ravioli and house-made burrata I ordered was divine! Jak’s Diner will always be my favourite breakfast spot, even though they don’t do cappuccino (inside joke, haha).
Have you considered Sudbury?
Sudbury, in my mind, is an emerging tourism destination. It’s focused on a bright future that incorporates sustainability and a better way of life for its citizens. For me, it’s a part of my childhood, and I will always look at this city with a tender heart.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy the trails, lakes, and adventure sports. Families will find plenty of activities that are fun and educational. The food and arts scenes are growing, and the city is making efforts to breathe new life into its downtown core.
The city may always be a little rough around the edges, but honestly, that is part of its charm. So, give Sudbury a go, chat up locals, and see what happens.