Sudbury, after years of a massive reforestation project, has emerged out of its gloomy and dismal dark ages to become one of the most beautiful cities in Ontario.
I recently returned to my hometown, my second visit in 15 years. The once barren hills are now deep forests with fields of grass growing out of the blackened outcroppings of some of the oldest rock on Earth. Winter 2008Sudbury, after years of a massive reforestation project, has emerged out of its gloomy and dismal dark ages to become one of the most beautiful cities in Ontario.
I recently returned to my hometown, my second visit in 15 years. The once barren hills are now deep forests with fields of grass growing out of the blackened outcroppings of some of the oldest rock on Earth.
The mining of nickel and the smelting of iron-ore put Sudbury on the map. Enormous smelters, some twice the size of Toronto’s Eaton Centre, and the accompanying colossal smoke stacks, polluted the land in unimaginable ways. There was hardly a blade of grass or tree left standing when I was a young boy growing up in the West End.
Others will say it was the clear cutting of the forests that caused the great decay of the land but nevertheless, with industry came people, money and a construction boom. By the late 1950s, Sudbury had some of the most stunning architecture for a city of its size.
Since childhood I have always had a fascination with architecture, and Sudbury had an Art Deco movie palace (Capitol Theatre) to rival anything in Toronto. Sudbury also had detailed bank facades of white sandstone, and mansions that could fit easily into Forest Hill or Rosedale unnoticed. The city also had one of the first post-modern buildings in Canada, the TD Bank on Durham St., a brilliant little work of art built in the International style, which stood next to a dazzling Edwardian-style post office.
Sudbury went though an urban renewal phase in the 1950s and 1960s. Heritage buildings were replaced with newer but less impressive ones. As I walked the streets of the downtown, my heart sank as I stood in parking lot after parking lot. What happened to the Capitol Theatre where I first saw M*A*S*H and Butch Cassidy? Where was the Woolworth building where I used to buy my Beatles records? What happened to the utterly unique Manhattan Restaurant, where after working all day in the local theatre, I would sit with my friend Kirk and listen to the jukebox while eating meatball sandwiches?
The destruction of Sudbury’s past seems to be endless. Where was the imposing Nickel Range Hotel where Alex Trebek grew up? What happened to a once lavish Victorian mansion that stood on the corner of Beach and Frood? When I was 10, I was desperate to see the interior, so I knocked on the door and asked to see a room advertised for rent much to the astonishment of the landlady!
All gone. Most of it was torn down in the last decade in an orgy of demolition leaving only large tracts of open land to remind us of what once was.
All is not lost as Sudbury’s downtown core still has a few terrific restaurants, trendy coffee houses and a marvellous farmers’ market. Sudbury still has possibly two of the finest examples of 1930s Art Deco architecture in Canada with the Northern Ontario Building on Durham, and the former Inco Club on Frood.
Downtown Sudbury reminds me of what downtown Toronto once looked like at the end of the 1960s, a vast wasteland of parking lots but still having just enough hipness and architectural treasures to be reborn into an active, lively and very livable downtown core.
For the past few decades Sudbury has been tearing away at its historic heart leaving behind vast expanses of nothingness. Now is the time to end the destruction, build anew and retrofit what remains to lure people back to the downtown core of this remarkable city.
The rebirth of Sudbury’s landscape is breathtaking, and with more than 300 lakes within the city’s limits, there are areas of Sudbury that can rival the beauty of Muskoka or the serenity of Toronto Island. My hometown now needs a visionary to save its heritage buildings for they can never, ever come back.
Bruce Bell is a historian, author and actor living in Toronto. He is well known for his writing about historic Old Toronto and his walking tours of the St. Lawrence Market area.