Monday, March 6, 2023

Sudbury, A to Z

I took this one from Atlas Obscura, the online source for offbeat tourism.
In June of this year, about 200 members of the Canadian Travel Media Association will be meeting in my hometown of Sudbury, Ont., for their annual conference.

While I am neither a member of the travel media association nor did the organizers ask my help, I thought I would create this list of things those visitors to Sudbury should know about so they'll return home knowing that--of all the places on the planet that they have ever visited--my hometown is one of the--if not the--most significant. 

I'm serious. 

What makes a tourist destination worth remembering?

Geography? Historic events? Architecture? Local wines? Famous people? Big battles? Stuff you can't see anywhere else, like the famous terracotta armies buried in the tomb of the first emperor of China around 200 B.C? What if I told you Sudbury, too, has thousands of guys underground, but they're actually still alive? And hard at work? And you want local wine? Ask one of the Italian kids I grew up with.

Sudbury doesn't just have landscapes; it has moonscapes. 

You want to talk famous battles? I point you to the easternmost corner of Sudbury's Queen's Athletic Field, where, in 1967 or '68, our grade-six classmate Francis Jonik threw down against Terry Puska in an afterschool match attended by a bunch of us grade sixers from St. Albert School. The next morning, our teacher whose name I shall leave out of this document--and who had somehow gotten wind of the fight--told everybody who attended to raise their hand, so we did, and then she proceeded to strap everybody who stuck their hand up. I learned a lesson alright. I've never volunteered for anything, since. I've also learned that Hitler used the same tactics. If one person misbehaved, everybody did time.

Yes. As the brochure writers say, "Sudbury has it all." Plus I'm happy to report Sudbury has it all in alphabetical order.

Sudbury Travel Tips

To make the most of this guide, you'll need a car, an Uber account, a taxi and/or driver. 

The Sudbury public transit system is not designed for touring around and looking at stuff. 

Or, you could phone my sister Mary. She knows the city and its history as well as anybody and would love to show you around. In both official languages. 

Mary is a retired nurse and hospital administrator and is one of those people who's busier now than she has ever been. If you want something done, ask the busiest person in the place, right? I didn't ask her if I could put her name forward like this but what's the worst that can happen? I have three more sisters.

But before we start, there's some things you ought to know. 

Sudbury Tourist Guide Warning Number One: A Mary-Carter-led tour of Sudbury would be like a tour of Vegas. You'll hear way more than you see.

Eileen (later Shania) in Hanmer, Ont.
For instance, say Mary's showing you the village north of Sudbury called Hanmer, one of the countless small communities on the outskirts of town. These little places go a long way in making Sudbury what it is. You'll see what I mean later. Meantime, here's Mary, going through Hanmer: "Not only is Hanmer the hometown of Canada's newest Supreme Court judge Michelle O'Bonsawin, Shania Twain lived here for awhile when she was a little girl. No, really! 

"And that Mutt Lange? What did he think he would gain by stepping out on Shania? Idiot. 

"I think Shania's voice is actually better now since the lyme's thing don't you?  And speaking of singers, if you've never heard of Mimi O'Bonsawin you might want to check her out. She might be related to the judge. Who knows? There's so many O'Bonsawins around here; I think I might have babysat Michelle."

Everybody in Sudbury is a handshake and a half away from Shania Twain, Stompin' Tom Connors, Eddie Shack, former Olympic Gold medalist Alex Baumann or, as of last year, Judge O'Bonsawin.

Tourist-Guide Warning Number Two: I will probably overlook a lot of the regular touristy things in favour of things I think are way more interesting.

Number Three: Even though Sudbury is a fiercely bilingual city, this guide will be in English.

By rights, I should speak French. My mom and dad were very progressive in that department and strongly advocated that we Carter kids attend French school but our tour guide Mary was the only one smart enough to take them up on this; she went through elementary, high school and some university in French and the rest of us Carters are all very impressed.

ST.ALBERT'S LOBOTOMY: The wrecking crew that took
down my elementary school afforded me my first view
ever of the second-floor French section.
Me, I attended half a day of French kindergarten at St. Albert's school on Eyre street but early on realized I couldn't understand a word anybody was saying. The next morning, instead of going back to class, I hid under the back porch and my mom never made me return. My sorry performance in kindergarten might prepare you for some potential failings with this travel guide, like I'll likely forget to suggest you take an afternoon nap. 

Also, visitors to Sudbury would be cheated if somebody didn't address at least one of the elephants in the place. When it comes to official bilingualism Sudbury is a lot like Canada as a whole. There's two distinct cultures. I'm not sure how it happened in Sudbury, but still.

St. Albert's School had two levels; on the first floor were us English students; the French kids were upstairs. We had separate classrooms; separate principals, separate entry and exit times and recesses. The French kids attended St. Eugene Church, which was two blocks north of our school and we all went to St. Clement's, which was kitty corner from the school and a block and a half south of  St. Eugene. 

The more I tell you about the French/English thing, the weirder it seems. I, for example, played on the St. Albert Saints basketball team (extra points for the creative team name!) and we competed with other English elementary schools. I do not even know if there was a St. Albert's French team. I don't even know if French kids knew what basketball was.  

What I do know is, when I was way older and living in Toronto, I met a woman whose husband was my age and who grew up near my school and was in the French section of St. Albert's so we never met. He was in high school, his wife told me,  before he learned that English moms and dads actually slept together. 

Travel writers visiting Sudbury should know that the city has these French-English issues that are ridiculous but go back generations.

When I was in high school, I saw the French arts scene as exotic indeed; they seemed to have so much fun, and out of a local phenomenon known as the Co-operative des artistes du Nouvel Ontario (CANO) came a rock band like no other; the now defunct CANO musique. Back in the last century when I attended Carleton University in Ottawa, CANO came to town for a concert and I convinced all my non-Sudbury friends to attend and they were like "Holy cow! That band's from Sudbury??" 

That's how good CANO was.  

The French arts community also spawned another arts organization called La Slague, named for the Slag dump which you'll hear about in other tourist guides and most recently the community was integral in the opening of the relatively new Place Des Arts Du Grand Sudbury downtown, which I've yet to visit but I've never been to The Louvre in Paris either but I will confidently recommend you check it out.

Of course Mary or Marie depending on the day would be more than happy to elaborate on other aspects of the area's rich Francophone mosaic. And if I seem jealous that Mary speaks French, it's because I am.

And that brings us to...the land-recognition thing. 

Sudbury was built on the traditional lands of the Atikemeksheng Anishnawbek. When I typed that, the first word reminded me of a place called Atikokan, a lumber and mining town about 1,000 miles northwest of Sudbury. I've never been to Atikokan but one of the kids I grew up alongside and remain friends with, Mike Blondin, had cousins there. 

When Mike and I were in grade school and played, like, scrub (a version of baseball but with no teams) or springtime ball hockey and we'd have to make up a rule on the fly--say you took a slapshot and the tennis ball bounced off the brick that was serving as a goalpost and into a space under the ledge of ice and you had to fish it out by hand--Mike pronounced that the move was permissible under "Atikokan rules." 

Mike's ad-hoc regs came in very handy. Still do.

Mike is Indigenous. I believe he's Anishnaabe, which is like the other half of that long phrase in the land-recognition thing. According to Ojibwe historian Basil Johnston, Anishnaabe means "spontaneous people; a.k.a., people who came into being from nothingness or by the breath of God."  

Mike's entire family is nothing if not spontaneous, and there's more on that later, but I also think that telling you about Mike's Atikokan Rules hockey counts as my land-recognition thing. 

Finally. The alphabet 

A is for Azilda, which is not, I expect, what you were expecting. You can't say I didn't warn you. 

Plus surprises are often the best part of travelling.


Azilda is a town a few klicks north of Sudbury on Highway 144, which actually goes all the way from Sudbury to Timmins, a city I've always thought wanted to be Sudbury when it grew up, the same way my current home Toronto aspires to be Manhattan. 

Timmins also claims Shania as its own, and Stompin' Tom earned the name "Stompin" nickname when he was playing at the Maple Leaf Hotel up in that town.

But never mind Timmins. Back to Azilda. 

The most important thing about Azilda is that it was named for  Azilda Belanger, and if Azilda's not one of the best names you've ever heard, I'll eat my hat. Azilda had 12 kids. She taught her husband Joe, who later went on to be an important politician, to read and write. 

Azilda, a Metis woman who spoke Huron, was known locally for her healing powers and midwifery and--cradle to grave--she prepared bodies for visitation. Azilda the renaissance woman died in 1942 and is buried in St. Joseph's cemetery in nearby Chelmsford. At the time of her death she had 72 grandchildren. 

JUST MISSED AZILDA: (From the Bob Atkinson
Azilda--the town--not the badass grandmere--was also the scene of a spectacular train wreck on Aug. 8, 1907, when a loaded freight rolled backwards into a passenger train and 43 people were killed.

This postcard from the event is proof that most postcards should show life as it really happens. Really, who wants another shot of a beach framed by your friend's tootsies? Real life postcards. Talk about a million-dollar idea.

B is for buses. We might as well get this over with. My family owned buses.

A whole bunch of them. Blue ones, grey ones, green and white ones.

My dad Tom and his brother Ed started Local Lines Ltd., in the early 1940s, bussing miners from their homes in the main part of the city out to all the mine and factory sites in the small towns nearby. The bus business grew and eventually became the actual Sudbury transit system, taking Sudburians wherever they wanted to go. So when I was little, one of the perks was me and my friends could ride all over town for free.

The Carter collection

Plus because we had the buses that delivered people to all the small towns that ran out of our old bus station on Durham Street downtown, I can rhyme off the names of all those towns, just like a guy in an old movie that has buses. Like this: "Azilda, Chelmsford, Dowling, Larchwood, Onaping and Levack." Or, going west from downtown ... "Gatchell Copper Cliff, Lively and Creighton." It's a skill all my brothers and sisters have that is probably the least useful thing anybody on earth can lay claim to.

Except we do know the names of the towns tourists ought to visit.

There's a bus on my parents' grave and I could spend this entire tour guide talking about our family bus lines because we had dramas all over town. Places you should all visit. I'll try to keep the bus stuff in check but can't make any promises.

B is also for Blondins. And if you're wondering "why are we back to the Blondins?" you're not alone. I'm sure the Blondins, if they ever see this, will ask the same question.

Here's why: Remember Mike Blondin? When we were in our teens, his older-by-two years brother John, who was in my late brother Ed's grade, hand built the most original and frightening car you've ever seen. John somehow squeezed a full-size eight-cylinder 283 cubic inch (that's the engine displacement measurement) Chevy engine into a
Volkswagen Beetle and made it work. 

VOLKSWAGEN SASQUATCH: So fast it was blurry. (Rendering by the author.)
Imagine sticking a 747 engine into an old biplane and having the thing fly. 

This John accomplished with as far as I know no professional mechanical training; a next-to-zero-budget and a completely outdoor backyard workshop. He built a car that was so cool and so extraordinary that cops pulled him over just to get a look at it. 

We don't have any photos of the car. I don't know what happened to it. 

You're just going to have to take my word for it. You've heard of a Volkswagen Tiguan? John's 283 Beetle was the Volkswagen Sasquatch. The fact you can't see it doesn't mean it's any less of a tourist draw. Its ghost still cruises the streets of town. 

The Great Blondins of the world are not confined to Niagara Falls.   

C is for Creighton, another town on the outskirts of Sudbury that's well worth a visit. Only problem is--and I don't mean to be making a habit of this--you can't see the main tourist draw here, any more than you can see J.B.'s VW. (I promise. The next one, you will be able to visit and actually take a picture of.)  
TUNNEL VISIONS: Researchers thinking deep thoughts in Creighton

Back to Creighton. There used to be a vibrant community on this site; but now it's all grass and mud. Except, almost two kilometres (just think about how deep that is!!) below the surface of the earth where you cannot go, there's a really important  research facility--cutely named SnoLab--which earned the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics. You can read more about this observatory here

But such a town Creighton used to be! Its ghostly remains are well worth a drive out. People visit abandoned battlefields, don't they? 

Creighton was one of many Sudbury-area communities where the mining company owned the whole shebang: the houses, the local cops, all the real estate and the general store. (Pretty convenient, really. You'd get paid by the mine and spend all your wages at the company store. The outfit I work for could save time and energy by depositing my weekly wage into accounts at Enbridge Gas, Costco,  Loblaws, Shell gas stations, Rogers, and the Beer Store.)

Company ownership aside, these mining towns developed independent identities and unique cultures. Everyone knew that kids who attended the high school in the nearby town of Copper Cliff, for instance, received superior, almost private-school educations. Well, the Copper Cliff High School students knew it, anyway.

QUITE THE RACKET: Creighton had badminton cornered.
Creighton  was home to some of the best badminton players you've ever seen. 

Badminton. I know. Looks easy.

But have you ever played against an Olympian-level badminton player? I have. 

And he was from Creighton. (He's actually now quite a prominent Sudburian--pharmacist Lucio Fabris. Keep that name in mind. Good chance he'll show up later in this guide.) 

I was in grade nine at Sudbury's boys' Catholic high school and Lucio was in my class. One day in gym he asked me if I'd like to play. I did. And for the first few rounds, I held my own. I thought, "Man, this Fabris guy might be good, but I'm actually getting the odd point here."

Then, smiling, Lucio asked ,"do you want to really play now?" 

I nodded. And never saw the shuttlecock again. 

That's the way it is with professional athletes. They are not just a lot better than you, they exist on a whole other plane. 

Everybody in Sudbury grew up around at least one prospective NHL player, and when a guy like that was playing pickup hockey with friends, he usually played like a pal and let the rest of us mere mortals feel like part of the action. But if he turned on the gas, the rest of us looked like we suddenly fell into a coma. On skates. That's how I felt when Lucio actually tried. 

Creighton was to badminton what Vienna was to opera. And now there's only grass there.

One of my mom's brothers lived in Creighton. He was among the thousands of men who migrated from Nova Scotia to Sudbury to get a job in the mines. Back home in the Maritimes,  my uncle Stellarton (Stellie) was actually studying to be a priest. Then he met one of my aunt Kayes. I had at least four. They were: My uncle Angus's wife in Niagara Falls was Kaye, my mom's sister Kaye, who lived up the street from us and played the organ at St. Clement's Church; my aunt Kaye who was Stellie's wife and finally, another aunt, Katie Carter, who was married to my uncle Ed and who was born in yet another ghost town called Odonnell, which was, believe it or not, a community that earned ghost-town status long before Creighton. 

Me and my heroic brother Ed
Another suburb of Creighton was called--I hope you don't have a mouthful of coffee--Dogpatch. My sister in law Judy Carter and her five sisters are Dogpatch girls. 

Where was I?  

Stellie, Kaye and their kids lived in one of the white company-owned houses on the shore of Creighton's Mud Lake. One day when I was in junior grade school my brother Eddie and I were out walking on Mud Lake (it was Spring and there was still lots of ice); I actually fell through the ice! Right up to my waist. Eddie pulled me to safety and I went to dry off at Stellie's house. That day could have ended much worse.

Eddie died last year. I now realized that I should have mentioned that life-saving feat in his eulogy. That was as important as making the olympics, I'd say. 

D is for Deluxe Drive-In, Highway 17 West 

Since before there were Beatles, there was the Deluxe Drive-In on Highway 17 at the west end of the city of Sudbury. Before cigarettes were unhealthy; back when the Toronto Maple Leafs were contenders and lots of them smoked cigarettes while on the bench--car hops delivered burgers and fries on trays to the windows of Sudburians at this very same location. This was back before McDonald's and before the Apollo 16 and 17 NASA astronauts visited the Sudbury landscape to get some sort of idea what awaited them on the moon. True fact! And if you could have seen the landscape around the Deluxe Drive-In you'd understand why. 

You can also see, from the Deluxe parking Lot, Sudbury's most famous landmarks--the Big Nickel and the now-defunct superstack. When it was constructed in 1971, Sudburians boasted that the stack was the highest in the world. This was the kind of thing the Chamber of Commerce and the mining company wanted us to brag about but we were more likely to boast about our classmates who made the Canadian Olympic badminton team and pals who could stick a Chevy engine in to a Volkswagen. The Big Nickel brags for itself. You can buy souvenir "Sudbury is a one-arch town" T-shirts at Deluxe. 

E is for Elgin Street strip. You know how, when you're little, you think the house you're living in is really big but then when you get to be an adult you realize it was a weenie three-bedroom bungalow?  That sister of mine that I mentioned before? Mary? She still lives in the house we Carters grew up in and I cannot believe we thought it was big. But never mind that. 
high-school cruise mobile.

The cruising strip in Sudbury seemed big too, when in fact, it was about five city blocks long, up Elgin and down Durham, and repeat. Both streets were one way so cars could line up five across at some intersections; and in their imaginations the drivers would race away from the lights, but in all the time I spent on the strip, I never saw anybody go flat out. I tried to do so in my dad's 1968 half-ton Dodge truck but  you couldn't tell by watching. 

On the other hand, I remember driving in a snow storm in the shoulder lane of Notre Dame Avenue one night and a couple of tough guys from Sudbury High School pulled up beside me, veering in close enough to touch my car. The passenger in that car, a noted amateur thug named Jamie H***h rolled down his window and gestured for me to do the same. I did. He yelled, "Hey Carter! Got a light?" and just to prove I was cool, I reached down and pushed in the cigarette lighter of my dad's Impala and when it popped out, I handed it across to Mr. Asterisk who lit his smoke then handed it back to me and we were still moving, all the while. I'm not sure why you have to know that. 

F is for a fact the travel media will want to knowUntil 2001, Sudbury's Ramsey Lake was  recognized by the Guinness Records people as the world's "largest lake completely surrounded by a city." How's that for a distinction? I once visited San Angelo, Texas, and its claim to fame was "the largest American City untouched by an Interstate Highway." 

Ramsey lost its status a few years ago. (Boo!) But lost it to another Sudbury body of water, Lake Wanapitei (yay), which is northeast of town, near the airport, and it also serves up a whole bunch of other Sudbury facts worth noting.  

On the shores of Lake Wanapitei is a tiny village called Skead Ont., which burnt down, almost to the ground . Fire broke out on May 6, 1957 and within hours destroyed the place.

Locals had  to take to their boats to escape the flames. 

Us to the rescue! Our family's bus lines served Skead and during the fire, my dad actually drove busfulls of Skeadites (Skead-addlers? Ha!) through the flames to safety. He had a lot of great bus driving stories; and one of my favourites is that of all the people who rode the buses, the only ones who actually tipped the drivers were the women who showed up from out town to visit the mining towns on the outskirts (Get it? Never mind) of Sudbury on the weekends. I imagine they were visiting long-lost uncles.

G is for George Armstrong,
the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs when they won the Stanley Cup in 1967, and he came from, you guessed it, Skead! Armstrong, the son of an Ojibwe mother and Irish-Canadian father, developed spinal meningitis as a child but still played 21 seasons for the Leafs. Nicknamed "The Chief," Armstrong died in 2021 and as I wrote in this story about Sudbury and hockey, if I ever got to put up historical plaques, I'd start with one on the shores of Lake Wanapitei and I'd dedicate it to Armstrong. You can read more about him and also, about Sudbury's brilliant contribution to professional hockey, here.  

TOMB IT MAY CONCERN: The last bus stop
H is for hockey, which is huge in Sudbury but more important was my mom, Huena.
My mother's first name was not uncommon where she grew up, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. It's the girl version of Hugh. Huena moved to Sudbury to study nursing in 1940-something  then  met and eloped with my bus-driving dad. They got married in the Cathedral in North Bay then returned to Sudbury where she gave birth to 10 kids and when she died in her home on Eyre Street on Valentine Day 2003, her death made the front page of the Sudbury Star. 
She is buried alongside my father and my oldest brother Pat in a lovingly tended plot in a graveyard west of the city, and in deference to my dad and in reference to that most famous grave in India that I visited in 1981, I call my parents' grave the Tom Mahal. 

I is for Italy; Little Italy, if you want to get picky about it. Little Italy is situated at the very foot of the giant chimney Sudburians call the superstack and Little Italy is like no other place you've ever been. The narrow twisty hilly streets are named  Pietro, Genoa, Dominico, Lombardy, Milan and Basilico. The houses are thisclose together. It's almost like driving through a village in Italy except if you look up, all you see is giant chimney. That's how close it is to the nickel smelter. Sudbury teems with Italians; I have been known to use Sudbury Italians to get to sleep at night.

J is for Jesus. Remember earlier I mentioned a badminton wiz who is now a pharmacist named Lucio Fabris? It's only fair I refer to him here, too, because he was instrumental in raising awareness and money for a Sudbury landmark that has been called a "hidden gem" that "celebrates the world religions." 
A.D., the Germanic people known as
Vandals sacked Rome. Last year, 
vandals beheaded the Roman guards
 in Sudbury's grotto.

And while yes, other denominations do get their share of attention, the "Grotto on the Hill" started with Jesus; or, to be exact, 
His Mom. The grotto began life as a monument to one of the most famous Catholic beliefs, Our Lady of Lourdes, which was made famous in the 1943 movie The Song of Bernadette,  about Jesus' Ma making no less than 18 appearances to young Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, in 1858. You don't have to watch The Song of Bernadette before visiting the grotto but it wouldn't hurt. After the grotto came statues depicting the Stations of The Cross (depicting Jesus' final, really lousy day on earth). Now, this park pays homage to all sorts of faiths and is way more interesting than I make it sound here. Plus just like in the old joke where Jesus beckons St. Peter to the foot of the cross only to tell him "I can see your house from here," the grotto affords a great view of Sudbury. But really. What would tourism be if not for religion and/or folklore? The world would be a very boring place indeed. Thank you Jesus.

K is for Killers' Crossing, and right this moment I hear a little voice inside me saying "this one intersection is the reason you started this Sudbury tour guide, isn't it, Peter?" 

Everybody in Sudbury knows where Killers' Crossing is; though there hasn't been a death there in years knock on wood. Killers' Crossing should be named as one of  the Wonders of the World or immortalized in The Smithsonian or some such. That somebody is not struck down dead here on an hourly basis defies logic and is a testament to the resilience, survival skills and driving legerdemain that every Sudburian is born with. Killers' Crossing is where the following roadways intersect: Regent Street, Lorne Street, Riverside  Drive, Ontario Street, Arnley Street and--most important--the main line of the railway! Say you're driving north, into town up
Regent and want to continue to get to, say, the house I grew up in. South of Killers' Crossing, Regent has two lanes; but if you're in the left lane, you can only go straight north and across the tracks but if you're in the right lane, your options are, when you get the green arrow,  turning right on to Riverside or turning right a few feet further and on to Ontario. Are you still with me here? To continue north on Regent, you first have to cross the tracks then quickly merge on to Lorne but then even more quickly get across two lanes and make a left where there's no signal unless it's between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. on  a weekday because that's Sudbury rush hour. In that case, you must continue along Lorne until you can make a legal left on Douglas or cut through the alley beside the Donut Shop. 
Seriously, if you want to get an idea for what it was like to navigate life in Sudbury, take a few runs at Killers' Crossing. And for a sense of Sudbury at its most confusing, arrive at the intersection just as a train is starting its way across the intersection. You'll be there awhile. You'll get bonus points while you wait for the train to make its way across the intersection if you've got to go pee.

L is for Laurentian University
, overlooking no less than two scenic lakes,
LESSONS LEARNED? Laurentian's  
a few degrees from bankruptcy
Ramsey and Laurentian, and founded in the mid-60s, LU delivers degrees in both official languages and is recognized for its medical school; its metallurgy programs, for being the training ground of Olympic medalist Alex Baumann and most recently for being the first publicly funded post secondary school in Canada to declare bankruptcy, or--as they might say in Sudbury--it should change its name from L.U to T.U. Google it. Happened in 2019. The place laid off more than 100 staff and axed 58 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs, the new administration's still trying to refinance its way out of bankruptcy. No trip to Sudbury would be complete without a drive around the splendid Laurentian campus.  

However. On the other side of Ramsey, at 179 John Street, sits a related historic site;  Laurentian University President's house. In fact if you really like it, the place is for sale. Who wouldn't want to own a home that "welcomed world leaders, internationally renowned artists and many celebrated alumni."? 
BEST'S HOME & GARDENS: Everything's for

One of the former inhabitants was Dr. Henry Best, who used to be the president of the university and who was the son of Dr. Charles Best, the co-inventor of insulin. According to
my late brother Ed, who earned a degree in philosophy from Laurentian, Dr. Best was-- considering his hoity-toityness--accessible and indeed friendly. And if you knew Ed and his attitude toward the establishment in general, that's some high praise. If we were in the United States, the university president's house would be a museum. The Americans make museums out of everything. Which brings us to...

M which could be for the Mining Museum.
But there isn't one. And neither should there be. Sudbury is a mining museum. Trying to explain it in one building would be like erecting, oh, I don't know, a bad taste museum in Vegas. Or the Nashville Museum of Heartbreak. Everywhere you go in Sudbury you're reminded of mining. I'd much rather have a Killers' Crossing souvenir T-shirt than a little snowy bubble containing a Sudbury nickel. 

Get this. In 2019, 40 miners got stuck underground for three days and two nights at the Totten Mine, which is about 40 klicks west of Sudbury near a town called Worthington, which was named after the British Railway Supervisor James Worthington. Worthington is the guy who named Sudbury, actually. After his wife's hometown in England. But what's important here is the 2019 mine accident.

Spoiler alert: Everybody got out okay. But it was still scary. 

For three days, the Totten mine was the only thing Sudburians could talk about. And like with Shania and Stompin' Tom, everybody knew somebody whose cousin had a brother that was trapped down there. We are happy to report mining techonology has come a long way from James Worthington's day but still. No matter how much the tourist people tell you about Sudbury's dynamic health care, its vibrant arts scene or diverse economy, it's still a mining town. There are--and I really recommend you try to remember this--about 3,107 miles or 5,000 kilometres of mines underneath the city and its surrounding region. You're basically walking around on the outside shell of a giant rocky rabbit warren.

So, depending on where you are in Sudbury, you could be treading on top of a bunch of guys earning a living underfoot. Think about that. And tread politely. 

IDLE SINCE 1920: Longer than some relatives
N is for Notre Dame Avenue; a.k.a., The Francophone Way. And well worth a driveOne half of the population pronounces it like Americans would--"Noter Dame"--the other half, the French way: "Nah Treh (with rolled r) dam." Notre Dame actually starts life as Paris Street where it intersects with "69." If that's not French enough for you, Paris winds its way north past and over the International Bridge until it officially becomes Notre Dame, which then bisects the Frenchest part of Sudbury, the Flour Mill. 

You'll know you're getting close to the Flour Mill when you pass the 93-year-old St. Jean-De Brebeuf Cathedral on the west side of the road. It looks like it belongs in Quebec. 

O is for the Old General Hospital. To lots of people in Sudbury, the huge mural on what used to be The Sudbury General Hospital is like your dirty-joke-telling, beer-chugging 
accordion-playing uncle who
CODE RED: And blue. And cyan.
 everybody thinks is such a hoot but who your folks wish would act his age and drink less and get a real job and maybe if he's going to come for dinner he could  like, contribute something or at least do the dishes once in a while. That's not asking too much is it? Meantime, the "General" opened in 1950 and closed in 2010 at which time it was sold to a company called Panoramic Properties. Panoramic planned to make it into a residential apartment building but something went wrong; the plans didn't unfold and in 2019 they commissioned the mural as a promotion for the artsy
Up Here Festival that runs in Sudbury every August. But all that you can get from a tourist brochure. 

What the brochures won't tell you is about the Friday afternoon I, at age 13, was playing baseball at St. Albert's School and Paul Uguccioni (he makes another appearance later in this program) was pitching and Joey MacPherson was up. I was catcher. I mistook a pitch for a throw home , stood up to catch it and Joey swung and if my left elbow hadn't been attached to the rest of me, it would have been a homer but as it was, it hurt like heck and I had to quit the game. Next afternoon--a Saturday--the swelling was so bad, my sisters Norma and Mary--both young nurses--decided I should go to emerg. Mary took me down because she worked at the General. Once there, Mary saw the name of the doctor and she was like, "Oh no, I hope he's not drunk again!" Then when the guy showed up, Mary interpreted his every move as that of a doctor who'd been drinking all day; thereby putting the fear of God into her baby brother and then after that, we went home and my two sisters (did I mention they were nurses?) decided to remove my new cast to wash my injured arm. 

You read right. They unwrapped the still-moist cloth that held the cast on, wiped off my arm and managed to get the thing back in place so by the time my parents--who'd been out of town--got home, everything looked normal. And that Norma and Mary went on to have remarkably successful careers as health care professionals. Plus my elbow works just fine.

I think tourists should flock to the old General Hospital like they do to Lourdes because of my elbow miracle. Plus there's ghosts there. 

P is for Poltergeists. 
The first story I ever wrote for Chatelaine magazine was a true tale about the ghost that inhabited my sisters' Sudbury apartment. I won't tell you exactly where the apartment was because it was a long time ago and I don't want to upset anybody. Especially the ghost. The current tenants are maybe living happily with the poltergeist; or perhaps the ghost has gone back to where it  came from. But I do know there are plenty of other places around Sudbury that are haunted and if you don't believe in spirits that's only because you haven't met up with one. Yet.  Read Spooky Sudbury by Mark Leslie and Jenny Jelen. In another book called Haunted Hospitals, by Leslie and Rhonda Parrish, the writers describe a visit to the abandoned General hospital by a photographer named Tom who hears a little girl giggling and then the sound of a bag of marbles falling to the floor and then even more laughter and I'm getting the willies writing this so I'm moving on to the next entry.

Q is for Queen's Athletic Field. To us kids, it was "Queen's Eth" because our calendars were too packed to make time for the ensuing three and a half syllables. Opened in 1930 and originally named the very creative "Athletic Field" this outdoor heritage sight and former quarry had "Queen's" added to its name nine years later when King George VI and his eldest daughter Elizabeth and prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King visited. (Not sure why they didn't call  it "King's" but there you go.) Many high school football games were played at Queen's Eth; and in the winter, the city of Sudbury makes it into a lovely family friendly skating rink but those Friday night football games were way more fun. Purple Jesus is grape juice mixed with vodka and while we cannot endorse pairing Purple Jesus with fresh cut french fries drenched in vinegar and covered with salt and ketchup like the terrific version they served at Queen's Eth, the combination can sure make a high school football game a lot better, especially if you're the only one at the game without a date.  

R is for Ramsey Lake.
Named for a CPR surveyor named Allen Ramsey. When the railway was planning its route from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean in the last few years of the 19th century, surveyor Ramsey made the call to put the tracks along the north side of this huge lake instead of the south side. In honour of that smart move, Ramsey's colleague James Worthington renamed the body of water from "Lost Lake" to "Ramsey Lake" and it has played a huge role in the life of Sudburians since. 

Here's a how-to-talk-like-a-local tip: Sudburians call it Ramsey Lake. Nouveau Sudburians say Lake Ramsey. 

Sudburians learned to swim, sail, fish and make out at Ramsey Lake. For decades, the city maintained and tended to three main beaches on the north side of the lake; namely First Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach. A little to the south sits the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre, named for one of Canada's first female mayors, who was instrumental in  building the theatre, which has been the focal point of another Sudbury trademark; the annual Northern Lights Festival Boreal, now in its 51st year of operation. Ask any old Sudbury hippie; he or she will tell you about the time they smoked dope with somebody famous at the festival. I once, working in the food tent, gave Valdy a bowl of  chili.

The amphitheatre's a few metres walking distance north of Science North; and until Science North was built, that corner of Ramsey Lake was known as Bell Grove; and with its tiny unsculpted and unsupervised beaches and bare rock shoreline, Bell Grove was where the cool kids swam.

Had you dropped in on Bell Grove one summer afternoon in the very late 1960s,  you would have witnesssed a pair of the area's natural inhabitants at their most feral. For it was there that this writer and his pal Trevor, aged about 11, dared to skinny dip. 

Mid afternoon. We biked to Bell Grove, realized we had the place to ourselves,  dropped our jeans, sneakers and t-shirts on the rocks (right where Science North sits today) and bravely jumped in. I have a feeling we weren't so much frightened that we'd get caught starkers but worse, we would get caught hairless. At that age, me and Trev, skinny and white as virgin Hilroy notebooks, looked like a couple of skinny cold soaking wet Mexican hairless cats.

Then a car pulled up.  

Luckily we'd left our clothes close enough to the water's edge, so before the people in the car could get out, we reached our jeans, pulled them into the water and get dressed under cover of Ramsey Lake. 

S is for Split Rock. If I tell you about Split Rock, you have to promise me to keep it a secret because my story might be illegal. In your travels around Sudbury, you would have noticed a lot of rock outcroppings. Some about the size of a small apartment building, others that range for a few city blocks. They're hilly, rocky, and barren geographical features that for kids growing up in the city, provided miraculous fantasy lands. Playgrounds. We ran free on those outcroppings, using them as pretend war zones or forbidden planets. 
I imagine the property belongs to the city; but for all I knew, it could belong to the mining companies, too. It didn't matter. Even if the rocks we were playing on were within shouting distance of our houses, when we were on the rocks we might has well have been in another time zone.

And one of the most exciting locations for us Carter boys was a small crevasse in the rocks near our house, a place called Split Rock. While we were pretty wussy and never actually did anything bad at Split Rock, we often talked about how the tough kids from the other side of the neighbourhood frequently sinned--and with gusto---at Split Rock. They probably smoked and drank there. Maybe even took girls.  So why am I telling you this? Because when my late brother Ed died in February, 2022, at the age of 66, my family and some friends climbed the rocks near the house where we grew up, found our way to Split Rock, and once there, after an ad hoc ceremony that involved peanut butter and jam sandwiches and yours truly performing  an acapella version of Monty Python's Always look on the Bright Side of Life, we spread Ed's ashes. Best. Funeral.  Ever.  
HELLO, STATUE? The writer, Tom, and
Ramsey Lake afficionado Trevor.
T is for Tom Connors, as in Stompin'. 
Speaking of death, when Tom Connors died in 2015, his soul didn't go to heaven or hell it hitchhiked to Sudbury and there are those who say that late on a Saturday Night, if you stand close to the lifelike statue of the singer songwriter that stands in front of the Sudbury Arena and close your eyes you will actually hear, in the wind, the moans and grinding from the very trains that Stompin Tom wrote about in his classic Movin' In (From Montreal by train). The fact that there's train tracks across the street is pure coincidence. 
The location of the statue is significant, too because it was at the Sudbury Arena where Connors performed his last Sudbury concert. The organizers of the concert came up with a promotional idea and suggested fans compose another verse to Connors' masterpiece Sudbury Saturday Night and my brother won but he actually said it was my sister who wrote it. That's the kind of family I grew up in. 

The Stompin' Tom statue is about one block west of one of Sudbury's diviest dives, the now-closed Ledo Hotel. In Frank Zappa's hit  Willie the Pimp, the hero of the song finds himself "standing on the porch of the Ledo Hotel, floozies in the lobby love the way I sell." My brother Ed, who turned me on to Zappa, told me he was singing about the Ledo in Sudbury.  None of the above characters are around to dispute the notion.

U is for Uguccioni: (Pronounced You- Guh-Chone-ee)
Don Uguccioni ran Don's Pizzeria in the west end of Sudbury and when I was a kid, we could buy a small plain for 95 cents. Henceforth, it was by Don's that all other pizzas were measured even up to now. Don's, under new ownerhsip, still sits at the corner of Byng and Lorne Streets. 

It was also Don's son Paul who threw the pitch that Joe MacPherson swung at when I busted my elbow, back up there at the old General Hospital story.

SUDBURY CSI: Where the 
eagle-eyed editor got his start.
Including Don's on this list of Sudbury was the suggestion of another kidhood friend, Kevin MacLean, who spent his childhood on Byng Street, near Don's second location. Kevin grew up to be a very prominent, prize-winning newspaper editor at the Toronto Star (among other places) and continues to be among the who's who in the community journalism industry but enough about him. 

First time I met Kevin, I think I might have been in grade two or three. I was friends with another kid named Paul Chislett. And I had just won--in a yo-yo contest though I didn't actually have to do any tricks; they just drew my name out of a barrel--a beautiful red CCM bicycle. And shortly after I won it, somebody nicked the bike from our yard. 

A few weeks later, I was hanging with my friend Paul, he and I walked to Byng Street to visit his cousin Kevin who I'd never met before. I told the new kid about my ripped-off bike and that same afternoon, as we were farting around his neighbourhood, the eagle-eyed Kevin spotted my bike behind the King's Texaco gas station. We stole it back. We nipped over to my dad's bus garage and my father came out from under a bus that he was working on, gave Kevin a reward and we've been friends since. Kevin went on to spend the rest of his life seeing things other people miss and then telling the world about them. He makes journalism seem easy. So when newshound MacLean said Don's Pizzeria was newsworthy, I listened. 

V is for very rich and famous people. Alex Trebek spent much of his youth growing up in the Flour Mill part of Sudbury and attended Sudbury High School. Leslie McFarlane, though raised in another Northern Ontario town, Haileybury, worked as a reporter for the Sudbury Star before moving on to write 19 of the first 25 Hardy Boy books under the name Franklin W. Dixon. Dozens of pro hockey players had their start in Sudbury and one of  Canada's richest guys ever, Paul Desmarais, was born and raised in the west end of Sudbury.  I shared a few classes and a lot of laughs at Sudbury Secondary School with writer/comic Sandra Shamas, and the artistic director of the Stratford Shakespearean Theatre is Antoni Cimolino, who was a year or so behind me at St. Albert's Elementary School in the city's west end and I'm pretty sure an altar boy at the same church as me, St. Clement's on Eyre Street. I wish I'd known his dad who, according to a Toronto Star story published after Cimolino's appointment at Stratford, upon learning that his kid wanted to be an actor, said "You want to be an actor? You know what that is? A combination between a pimp and a car thief."  Cimolino, who I've heard everybody in Stratford really thinks highly of,  was named to the Order of Canada in 2015. 
W is for Water. It's everywhere around Sudbury. According to Wikipedia, the Greater Sudbury Region is home to 330 lakes. making it the municipality with the most lakes of any city in Canada.. And if you fly over Sudbury, it looks like there's more water than land. Which makes the fact that I can't swim  ironic indeed. Then again I can't skate backwards, and you'd think somebody who grew up in Sudbury would be able to swim like a fish, skate like Gretzky and speak both official languages. But you'd be wrong. 

Mind you, I saw a plane crash into Ramsey Lake once. 

I was there with Trevor--yeah, that same Trevor--but this time I remember being fully clothed and in fact wearing jeans, a t-shirt and--this part's important--sandals. We were with Trevor's older sister Karen and her friend Eric at a summer festival in the park. The beach and water were crowded and over near the far shore we could see where some water skiers had set up a jump ramp, on which a couple of them were resting in the sun. Along came a guy--(yes it could have been a female pilot but you and I both know that if it had been a she this wouldn't have happened) operating a single engine water bomber airplane--part of the show, I think--who thought he'd play a joke on them. He  dipped down to about 20 feet above the ramp, opened up his tanks and let a load of water fall on to the resting skiers. Dumb, I know. The ramp busted, the skiers tumbled into the water. The showboat got his, though. He tried to climb but made some sort of miscalculation, lost power,  and we all watched from shore as his plane with nose upward, fell backwards into the drink, a few yards from the water ski ramp. I don't recall what happened next except Eric looked at me and said "You're wearing Jesus boots. Why don't you walk on the water and go see what happened?'

X is for Xtrata. Pronounced like it looks: "ex-Trada." For most of Sudbury's mining history, people worked for one of two big companies, Inco or Falconbridge. That was then. Lots of locals called Inco Mother Inco. Falconbridge was smaller. Inco mines are now largely operated by a Brazilian mining company called Vale, pronounced Vallez and Falconbridge facilities are owned by a company called Glencore Canada but before that, in 2006, Falconbridge sold its assets to Xtrata which sold out to Glencore, in 2016. You don't have to know this but on the off chance you end up in a bar talking to a local, it's good to be up on this kind of thing. Also, nobody pronounces the town Val Caron the French way. Everybody says "Val Karen." Which of course might inspire a joke of its own but I'm more mature than that. Also, Sudburians call MacDonald Cartier High School Mac Jack (Jack referring to Jacques Cartier) and Nickel District Secondary School was Nickel Dick. 

Y is for Yikes! Did You see this thing on YouTube? At this point, I'm thinking, "I just researched (ish) and wrote about 10,000 words and then clicked on this,
one of the countless entertaining online explanations of why Sudbury is--like I said at the beginning of this list--one of the coolest places on the whole planet." 
rocks more alluring than the Blarney Stone.

Usually, as soon as somebody tells me that if I really want to understand a complex issue, "there's this YouTube video you have to check out, seriously," I tune out. But not with this one. I  learned so much about my hometown that I'll probably watch it again. And not just because the affable presenter Adam Bunch, looks so much like a lot of the guys I grew up with. 

He also makes a great case for why Sudbury is so unique; and his argument dates back 1.8 billion years ago, when a comet or asteroid or something about 200 kilometres in diameter hit planet earth, bringing all the minerals and ore that much later, got mined in Sudbury and, Bunch says, at High Falls north of Sudbury (on highway 144 north of Azilda) on the Onaping River, you can find evidence of the meteorite, right on the surface of the ground! 

Everything you see; everything you own; all your stuff; your cars, your food, the trains and sneakers and FitBits; iPhones; the lithium that goes into Teslas and the lithium that goes into mood disorder drugs, your contact lenses and your power cords--it all comes from this planet. And a visit to Sudbury is your chance to touch the source. 

Why is Sudbury cooler than other place on the planet? This! The fact that you can visit something that's more than a billion years old, right there, by the river. This predates you; it's older than human life on earth and Canada's French-English dilemma. Why there aren't throngs of tourists, lined up along the river, waiting to touch this historic piece of the past is beyond me. Have you ever seen the tourists at Ireland's Blarney Stone? Or Fatima in Portugal? Watch Bunch's film and make your Sudbury plans now.

Z is for zed,
the correct way to pronounce the last letter of the alphabet. The English and French agree on this. 

Le end.



  1. Oh! Peter!
    I’m sorely tempted to enjoy your alphabet tour of Sudbury!
    This is funny and factual and maybe even erudite.
    And I’m stuck for words that describe how I enjoyed this.
    Yours truly, Bertholde

  2. And this had me giggling and tearing up start to finish. Even if I did not grow up in Sudbury, I married someone who did, and we raised our fve Sudburians in all those places, And Ed held Bill’s stag before our wedding at the Ledo. Best 25 yearsof my life!

  3. June Enright ne PellisMarch 7, 2023 at 4:13 AM

    I loved this…so much I recognized and things I discovered. Lots of remembered names and faces..home towns always close to our heartsđź’•

  4. Great read, I recognize so much, grew up on Isabel St. Right across from Don’s pizza, and watched him flip the crust, my Aunt Lola worked there also.

  5. Grew up around the corner on Isabel St, went to St Albert upstairs. My friends were the Orasis, played with them off school hours but didn’t see them during school, so bizarre. I was married to the violinist in CANO, went to La Slague for many events, and Place des Arts is great, a must visit. Walked to Ramsey lake using the stairs at the top of Brady st. One thing you missed is the pit at he end if Isabel st over the mountain. Always great memories of Sudbury

  6. Thanks for the great walk down memory lane. From the General Hospital, where I was born, to the INCO mines where I worked. From Don's incredible pizza to the Deluxe Drive In where many late night fries were consumed. From the 1956 283 cubic inch Volkswagen Beetle, which I rode in with John, to the equally fantastic, and often smoke filled, fantastical worlds on the glacially scarred rolling rocks from the West End to New Sudbury. You touched my memories from A to Z.

  7. What a wonderful walk through of Sudbury! Memories! Memories! My home town! I read this wonderful memory walk and could remember things I had forgotten. Well worth reading. Thank you Mark.

  8. This was a wonderfully amusing and nostalgic read about the city in which I live, raised my children and proudly call home! I do hope that, if you haven't already done so, you will have this published.

  9. Thanks Pete…a thoroughly enjoyable read…made me smile and recall lots of happy Sudbury childhood memories

  10. Pete. You should publish a book of your memoirs!

  11. Peter, great memories from St. Alberts, the west end and Sudbury in general. I especially remember the split rock having tobogganed down it one winter only to hit a rock, who knew, and wound up breaking my wrist. I loved Don's pizza, I haven't had it's equivalent anywhere since.