Long before actors such as Paul Gross, Ethan Hawke and Ryan Reynolds came to Sudbury to star in movies, the city attracted VIPs because of its unique geology and rich natural resources, and later because of its world-renowned efforts to undo the environmental damage caused by industry.
The list of distinguished and celebrated visitors, at least in the early part of the 20th century, is noteworthy because Sudbury was a small town in the middle of nowhere and accessible only by rail. Regular commercial air service started in 1954. Highway 69 was not completed until 1960.
Indigenous poet Pauline Johnson gave a reading in the pioneer town in 1896.
American inventor Thomas Edison had an office in the city from 1901 to 1903 while he prospected for nickel in the Falconbridge area. He had invented a nickel-iron battery and hoped it would be used to power Henry Ford’s new automobiles. Discouraged by quicksand and financial losses, he shut down his operations and returned to New Jersey.
Ernest Hemingway, the American novelist, visited Sudbury in September 1923 when he worked for The Toronto Star. He was investigating rumours that coal had been discovered north of Chelmsford. If the rumours were true, a coal mine would have created 35,000 jobs.
Hemingway stayed at the Nickel Range Hotel while researching a story about mining speculator Alfred Coyne who was seeking investors.
His story headlined, Search for Sudbury Coal, was published in the Sept. 25, 1923 edition of The Toronto Star. With the help of a geologist, he concluded the black coal-like material was anthraxolite, which is not suitable for fuel.
On the eve of the Second World War, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth went underground at Frood Mine in June 1939. Nickel would be important to the war effort because its unique properties strengthen steel, making the metal critical in the manufacture of guns, tanks, planes and battleships. Sudbury mines supplied 95 percent of Allied demands for nickel during the war.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip also visited Sudbury and Frood Mine on their visit to Canada in 1959. The Queen returned with Philip to Sudbury to open Science North in 1984.
In October 1991, Prince Charles received a 90-minute tour of Inco’s tailings area and took part in the ceremonial tapping of the “new” flash furnace, the centrepiece of the company’s $600-million initiative to cut sulphur dioxide emissions.
The prince brought the most famous woman in the world at the time, Diana, with him.
On that same Royal visit to Canada, the future King of England, William, and his brother, Harry, visited Science North.
The most notable visitors − after Royalty − are the Apollo 16 and 17 astronauts who trained here in the early 1970s. The astronauts visited the area to observe shatter cones and breccia formations formed from the meteorite that created the Sudbury Basin some 1.85 billion years ago.
In 2009, representatives of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency tested unmanned moon mining vehicles at NORCAT.
Prime minister Wilfred Laurier visited relatives, the Bélangers, in Azilda during the election campaign of 1911.
Lester B. Pearson, who was prime minister from 1963 to 1968, represented Algoma East, which included Manitoulin Island, for 20 years. He was the last person to represent the riding which was later redistributed between Algoma, Nickel Belt, and Timmins-Chapleau. He no doubt visited the city on his way to his riding. Laurentian University gave Pearson an honorary degree in 1965,
In 1994, prime minister Jean Chrétien took part in a tele-remote scooptram demonstration at Garson Arena. After the demonstration, he took part in a ceremony to celebrate the planting of the one-millionth seedling in the city’s regreening efforts.
Stephen Harper only visited Sudbury once when he was prime minister and it was to attend a private function.
Dignitaries including Everest mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary (1987), and renowned physicist Stephen Hawking (1998) visited Science North. World-famous chimpanzee researcher Dr. Jane Goodall was a special guest in 2002.
Entertainers who have performed here are numerous and include Celine Dion, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Michael Bublé, Shania Twain, Dire Straits and Kiss.