Sudbury, Canada: A Town Transformed

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Sudbury, Canada: A Town Transformed

When people think about “Canada Living,” or the Great White North, there are many thoughts everyone seems to share. It snows all the time, to the point that streets are often white. That cars are useless and snow-dogs are the most common form of transportation. Those who have traveled to Canada know there is some truth to those beliefs, if you’re really up North. The rest of the country has a similar look and feel to our neighbors in the United States. Our cities look the same in all our bigger municipalities, such as Toronto and Vancouver. But what about those little cities in between? What is life like there? Well, I grew up in one of those particular cities. A small, almost off the grid place, called Sudbury.

Sudbury has a population of 100,000 people, which is fairly large for Northern Ontario. No, I wasn’t North enough to need sled dogs. Winter was only a couple months of the year and there was never any snow on the main roads in town. Too much traffic and too much smoke from the smokestacks.

Sudbury has always been known as a mining town. Wealthy in materials, but on the poverty line when it comes to people. When I was younger, there were homeless people everywhere. It was sad that so many people had fallen down and the system wasn’t designed to pick them up. The only real area of interest was considered “the downtown core.” The more wealthy citizens lived up town, in either the East or South ends of the city. North end was mostly factories, while the West end was where everything seemed to come together. Different circles stayed in different areas of the city, with most people actually fearing the downtown core. Largely due to the homeless population and tendencies for violence.

I wouldn't have recommended visiting a few years ago, I would have told you any city had a better selection of things to do. But now? I'd say Sudbury should be on every tourists list for places in Ontario.


It was strange to grow up in this city. In the 80’s, years before I was born, the city was something else. My parents would tell me stories of “how things used to be.”

“How?” I’d ask, curious and wanting to know more.

“The downtown core was booming,” my father would answer loudly while gesturing around. It was as though he was still seeing its vitality in his mind.


Sudbury Bus Terminal. PIC: AL

“We used to get a lot of tourists. We had big name musicians, like Billy Idol, wanting to play at one of our arenas, ” my mother would add. By the time I was old enough to go to shows, we were down to one arena and it barely got talent, let alone fame. People only came through Sudbury on their way to something better, or to visit family they had long left behind.

“What happened?” I’d always ask in return. But the response was always the same. A shrug of their shoulders, like no one really knew.

Sudbury became a sad town with nothing to do. The shopping mall in the East end closed and the South end became restricted. Everything was falling apart.

Then the strangest thing happened. My family and I moved to Sault for a few years, feeling more opportunities might lie in a more lively town. The stay was brief and no one really got their feet settled on the ground. We moved back to Sudbury, but it wasn’t the same place anymore. Everything was different.

The South end was open and thriving, two new malls had been built. The bus routes now extended beyond the South end, into a new up and coming neighborhood on what used to be the outskirts of the city. The downtown core had been gutted of the trash people had come to be used to. Homeless shelters and assistance programs opened, giving people a new lease on life, a chance to get back on their own feet.


The Sudbury Big Nickel. PIC: AL

The downtown core became a living thing. Weekend art festivals, even art galleries were opening on the corners. Trendy cafes started taking over long closed down leases. Hip young folks from other cities, even countries, were determined to bring Sudbury back to life. While those who had lived here were afraid of the changes, they welcomed the aftermath.

Once again, Sudbury became a tourist attraction. A place people would want to visit for the weekend. There was so much more to do. So much more to see. The old malls rebuilt, adding new and fun stores that fit the new generation taking over.

It became a place you would be proud to call your home.


Sudbury Water-tower. PIC: AL

No one could really answer what brought on these changes, the same way they didn’t know what had happened before. If the changes were gradual, it would have made sense to miss them. But they weren’t at all. A three year period and the same place we left was completely different when we got back.

The opportunities in Sudbury grew as the economy did. There were jobs everywhere, with new stores and restaurants and places opening. New mini-malls in construction needed resumes before they even had doors. It was a dream come true, because regardless of your skill set, someone was looking for what you had to offer. Finding a job in that economy was easy.

Unfortunately, having a great economy often means an increase in prices, which was true for Sudbury. The previous rental rates almost doubled, reflecting the state of the economy. While we were discouraged by the rising prices, it said more about the future of the city. It was a great time for long-term home owners to sell their houses at double the price. So the housing market was doing great as well. But not only for the wealthy. There were benefits for the poor as well. Wealthy apartment owners started donating suites to the Housing Initiative to help get people off the streets. Which decreased the homeless population even more.

The downtown core, once dangerous, became the location of many trendy eateries. Even a tattoo parlor moved from across town to set up in a more central location. The weekend art parties drew people from all over town. Then, the art initiative started. Store owners and restaurant managers were asked to start displaying local art within their shops. Coffee houses took submissions from local writers to showcase their work. The artist life in Sudbury became something amazing. As an artist myself, I was happy to be present during this change in the economy.

I saw what Sudbury was when I was growing up. I heard stories of what Sudbury had been like before. Watching the changes happening, the city growing, was such an amazing experience.

I wouldn’t have recommended visiting a few years ago, I would have told you any city had a better selection of things to do. But now? I’d say Sudbury should be on every tourist’s list for places in Ontario. There’s natural beauty from the rocks that line the city. There are trendy vegan bakeries in the downtown core. The art galleries and local artists put together amazing displays. In fact, they even put on outdoor movies a few times throughout the summer. Whether you’re into theater performances, paintings, musicians at play, or even just grabbing a drink in a great atmosphere – Sudbury has something for everyone!

For similar articles, check out Growing Up in Goodrich, Michigan.

Ali Larsen

Ali Larsen

Ali is a published author who was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario. Currently, she is working as a freelance writer, while also looking into teaching a creative writing class. You can check out her blog at