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A man with big ideas


I called Oryst Sawchuk, my partner for 25 years, who died in May, “a media darling.” He received frequent and favourable attention from the media.

Reporters liked to interview Oryst because he always had something interesting and provoking to say. He was refreshing. Most interviewees are afraid to say anything controversial, have their own agendas, or are coached by public relations people.

I first met Oryst in 1986. My beat at Northern Ontario Business was the Sudbury and District Chamber of Commerce. He was vice-president of the chamber at the time. I have no idea now what the subject of our interview was although if I looked hard enough I might find a copy of the article. I remember he asked me as many questions as I asked him. I was fresh from Toronto and found him surprisingingly sophisticated in a place I then considered “north of the wall.”

There are hundreds of news clippings about Oryst, who was active with the Jaycees, the chamber of commerce and several arts groups, filed away dated from 1954 to 2018.

Back in 1954, the young architect was “discovered” by Betty Meeks, the wife of the publisher of The Sudbury Star. The newspaper printed his University of Manitoba thesis, plans for a city hall and cultural centre in downtown Sudbury, in its November 1954 Progress Edition.

Oryst, who was 26 at the time, was described as “a young man with big ideas.” His civic centre plan won him a $1,200 Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation fellowship which he used to continue his studies in urban planning.

His vision for a “new” Sudbury would have meant urban renewal in the area around the old St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sudbury High School. A civic centre would be built on the large lot, later occupied Sudbury Star building, facing College St. and the Legion Hall (later home of Steelworkers’ Local 6500).

On a lot across from the high school, Oryst envisioned an 800-seat cultural centre.

The early offices of CBC Radio on MacKenzie St, which in 1954 was the location of Cecutti’s Bakery, was selected as a site for a band shell. The plan also called for three parking lots (spaces for 400 cars), “in the heart of the city,” close to the central business area.

The city needed not just a city hall but “a city heart,” he told the Star.

Almost 65 years later, Sudbury still does not have a cultural centre. Civic Square (Tom Davies Square), built in the 1970s on Brady St., is under renovations to turn it from “dead square” into a people friendly place. The plan for Kingsway Entertainment District moves the heart to the heel of the city.

Oryst never gave up on his vision for a vibrant Sudbury, “a city of communities” and his hopes for thriving downtown.

In May 2018, printed an article about ideas for a Heritage Square under the shared byline of Oryst and his business partner Arthur Peach. Here is an excerpt:

Imagine the possibilities of re-purposing the CPR (VIA) Station as a Museum of the Downtown that highlights the lives and events that make up our story as a community.

The CPR Station is a legacy of Reeve Stephen Fournier, Sudbury’s first elected head of council, who at the first meeting with the newly elected council in 1893 adopted a resolution “getting after” the CPR for a new station. It was realized 13 years later in 1906.

Together with Sudbury Arena, a legacy of Mayor Bill Beaton and built in 1951, re-purposed as Sudbury’s cultural/arts hub with the proposed central library, concert hall and an addition of an art gallery facing the constant light of the north overlooking Memorial Park. This is complemented with a new arena and a parking garage.

These important “city-makers” are clustered, defining a proposed Heritage Square/Place du Patrimonies.

Facing south it would be a sun pocket that would include the farmers’ market and would connect Sudbury Theatre Centre and perhaps a seniors/folk arts centre off Shaughnessy St. All of which becomes a grand overall pedestrian precinct within walking distance of the Sudbury Transit Centre. The precinct extends from the railway station and Elgin Greenway on the south to Brady St. on the north with Elgin looped around to meet Brady, and to Paris St. on the east.

True to downtown as a walkable neighbourhood, Heritage Square would be pedestrian accessible from all parts of Greater Sudbury via public transit.

Image a grand public celebratory place, yes, a place where festivals and public demonstrations and more could be held.

It’s all possible, it can happen. It just needs the combined efforts and public support along with City Council, and the combined will of the chamber of commerce, the Downtown BIA, and the Downtown Village Development Corporation.

Oryst Sawchuk, media darling, my darling, will be missed.

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