Deer hunting in Sudbury

Two weeks ago I spent Good Friday afternoon walking around the fine and solid City of Sudbury. Because it was a holiday the city felt silent and empty. Only a few places were open, like the Tim Hortons, where the employees swear like hockey players but are very kind and funny and run the most popular place in town. With most things closed, I felt like I had the downtown to myself — and it’s quite a downtown, with interesting looking buildings and a crazy topography.

Like many Ontario cities and towns, gentrification isn’t a word that applies to much of anything, and though it might have been a cinematic imagination at work, Sudbury reminded me of the Pennsylvania mining and steel town that The Deer Hunter was supposed to have taken place in. It had a similar 1970s feel with unadorned clapboard homes, clinging to rocky ground — not run down, but slightly weathered. Times, we were told, are not so bad in Sudbury, as nickel is in demand and the mines are hiring (though some native sons and daughters may indeed be about to ship off to a far off war), so the comparison stops there. Below is a quick photo tour of Subury.

The Sudbury water tower dominates the city from its perch on top of one of the hills and was asking to be climbed and explored. Steep streets, with those Deer Hunter homes, reach right up underneath it. The last picture shows the other dominant structure you can see from most anywhere in the city, the INCO Superstack. Second highest stack in the world and second tallest freestanding structure in Canada — taller than First Canadian Place, but shorter than the CN Tower. Super is too often put in front of words that just aren’t super. In this case, it’s more than appropriate.

I had grit in my shoes most of the time because Sudbury uses chunky sand rather than salt on the snow and ice. Other than the need to empty the shoe now and then, walking around was fine and made a nice crunch-crunch sound. Watch out for the teens in the last photo, they will push you into the slush because they own the sidewalk.

Like many places that were built on natural resource money, like Thunder Bay, they didn’t scrimp on the details in the early days. Sudbury still has some great buildings and pieces of public infrastructure.

Some neat mod buildings. The top is part of a hospital, the bottom a Ukranian Church and community centre.

Sudbury’s downtown strip is largely intact, though being Good Friday, it was difficult to tell how busy it is during normal hours. There is a big-box “four corners” outside of town where most people likely do their shopping, but there was a variety of shops downtown, including a familiar urban blight, a Money Mart. Many of the bars have a time-warp feel to them, at least in signage. That night we went to the rock and roll bar and made friends with the bartender and told her we were from Toronto. When I ordered a pint she laughed and said “you are going to love this — $4.10.” You can get pints in Toronto for $4.10 fairly easily (which I didn’t mention) but you probably can’t pay double for the same thing anywhere in Sudbury, which you can in Toronto (which I confirmed).

Sadly, parking lots are never far away in Sudbury. It’s easy to get the feeling each one of these empty spaces represents a good building lost.

Raw Canadian Shield chunks poke up all around Sudbury, blackened by years of pollution, like Concrete Gone Wild. The hills allow for neat Exorcist-like sidewalk-staircases with good views from the top.

Sprawl, Sudbury style.

The famous giant nickel is located on the edge of town, complete with King George on it, within view of huge INCO slag piles. It’s a good looking nickel, and when the sun shines on it and reflects at the right angle, everything turns bright white and silver.

Beyond the Nickel is the community of Copper Cliff, a compact and urban jumble of homes located right next to the Superstack. A large Italian population lives here, and the streets have names like “Venice” that explode into celebration when Italy wins an important soccer game.

Probably not altogether fair, but this bar has a fun representation of Sudbury landmarks and stereotypical passions.


  1. Amazing stuff. You’ve captured much of the real Sudbury, but the newer areas, like New Sudbury, look almost like anywhere in Ontario. There’s many nice homes there too, but I guess you missed them.

  2. Wow, really great photos. The parking lots hurt the eyes, but good to see that some of the old industrial muscle remains.

  3. There were nice homes in and around downtown too (“deerhunter” homes included – I liked them). I was on foot, so didn’t make it too far outside of downtown — except for a ride we got out to the Nickel and Copper Cliff.

  4. I usually visit Sudbury at least once a year to hold a meeting. I always host it at a local downtown hotel, for one the service is good and two there is no need to drive anywhere…Dinners, sometimes three nights in a row are always at “respect is burning” a couple doors from Diamonds (local peeler bar). Its a shame that the downtown like many downtowns in Ontario has for the most part been abandoned for New “sudbury”; insert any town name into the quotations.

    When I am able to walk from shop to shop or walk to dinner I try to think of the reasons so many of us still want to drive to same big box shit that exists everywhere. I home other small business get the support they need to rejuvenate so many of the great downtowns of our towns and cities.

  5. by the way…I noted Diamonds because it was pictured in the photo collection of Sudbury, not because I would think that everyone reading this is going to know where the local peelers

  6. I think the Pennsylvania comparison is pretty accurate. I grew up in Pittsburgh and spent nine years in Philadelphia. I’ve seen almost all of the state, and one of the first things I said to my co-worker upon seeing Sudbury in the daylight (I was there for a work trip a few weeks ago; first time that far north after almost four years in Toronto) is that its setting and much of the architecture reminded me of a random central Pennsylvania town.

  7. Great photos, Shawn. Its interesting to see my hometown through an outsider’s eyes.

    You’re right that each parking lot represents a lost building; Sudbury hasn’t shown much respect for its architectural heritage. Important old downtown buildings are torn down even faster than pavement can be laid. Nevertheless, the downtown has managed to hang on for years, always seeming to teeter just on the edge of complete economic collapse. Today, I think much of the downtown economy is supported by the civil service crowd who work in the few downtown government office buildings. (Still, though, the quiteness of it makes it a fun place for exploratory stroll!)

  8. Ahh Sudbury. My home town. Downtown Sudbury used to be quite nice – even when I was a kid it was bustling. A number of things happened though. First, there haven’t been effective planning principles employed at the City, well, ever really. Consequently, sprawl divisions crept up – New Sudbury being the most shining example in the 1950’s – these same principles are still being employed. Downtown survived for many years because the shopping mall was fairly decent. When mall owners decided to raise their rents, many of the stores packed up for lower rents in New Sudbury. When Eaton’s tanked, the mall basically shut down. Besides getting drunk on the weekend, there really isn’t much need for the average Sudburian to go downtown.

    Another factor is that land ownership downtown is concentrated in the hands of a few developers. These are the same developers building subdivision, who have found it much cheaper to tear down buildings (many historic) and put up parking lots. Property taxes are cheaper for parking lots, and the maintenance costs are low. It’s much easier for them to sit on this land until something magically “happens” downtown.

    On the bright side, there are a few really cool places to hang out (the Townehouse, the Laughing Buddha, Books and Beans, Respect is Burning), but there isn’t a coordinated effort to transform the atmosphere down there. Some things that I think would work – re-route rail traffic away from downtown and put parklands over the tracks, make Durham Steet pedestrian, and parking downtown free. There needs to be a reason above and beyond shopping for folks to go down there – a conceptual shift really needs to happen, given that was downtown’s savior for the longest time.

    Bottom line is, until Council realizes it’s in their best interest to intensify development downtown – to coordinate services like transit more effectively – nothing is going to happen. The car culture is thick up North, and like everywhere else, people want their little slice of suburban heaven. The only way to shift these behaviors is with a heavy handed council willing to set some rules up that are beneficial to the City, rather than rules that line the pockets of the City’s development community.

  9. We indeed went to eat at Respect is Burning and visited the townhouse and had a hummus sandwich at Laughing Buddha. No peelers, but noted location.

  10. Sudbury was where I grew up and for a kid, the place was great! Plenty of “mountain” climbing opportunities; wide open spaces where you could launch a kite and not worry about power lines; swimming from sunrise to sunset during the summer (Ramsey Lake is on the south side of town about a 20-minute walk from downtown); learning “skid control” in a car on the same lake in the winter; the big Christmas tree bonfire early in the new year (before “global warming”); tons of playgrounds with skating rinks; the biggest skating rink in the world just south of the slag dumps when a winter thaw caused a creek to overflow and then freeze; miles (before kilometers were invented) of creeks to explore; and, of course, summer blueberries…


  11. I grew up in Sudbury as well. Your pictures made me feel very nostalgic for my home town. I have climbed those exorcist staircases..and the view never disappointed. If next time you should visit , take your camera along again and take pictures of the Ukrainian National Federation Hall on Frood Road ( just like in the Deer Hunter) the Steel Workers Hall, and most important of all The Sudbury Arena…home of the famous Sudbury Wolves. All architecturally distinct in their own way,and nestled in their unique neighborhoods, Oh, I almost forgot. Pictures must be taken in the Donovan area and the Flour Mill section of Sudbury. Tons of pictures still waiting to be captured.
    Thank you for taking some charming pictures. I have forwarded this link to many ex-pats.

  12. Thank you for this charming look at the city where I’ve just moved. It’s been hard for me at times to see these mining landmarks (especially the stack) as anything positive beyond its economic significance: you have managed to cast quite an endearing light on the lot. Thank you! It’s been fun to visit the city with novelesque glasses, I think I might just keep them on.

  13. I was raised there.

    It is a ghastly shithole, and will always be.

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