Having begun as a pioneer settlement in 1883, Subury has since developed into a city with over 160,000 residents. As one of the largest nickel (the metal found in cell phones and various everyday appliances) producers in the world, the regional capital has a complicated environmental history. 

Once home to the tallest smokestack in the world, Sudbury now boasts some of the cleanest air in Ontario. How, you may ask? Let’s take a little deep dive into Sudbury’s mining story and exactly how this city rose from the proverbial ashes.

The Beginning: Mining in Sudbury

Prior to the construction of the Inco Superstack, not much was done to mitigate the implications of air pollutants on the environment. Sulphur dioxide from nickel mining was being released into Ontario’s air space from smelters, utilities and petroleum refineries at an alarming rate. 

Over the years, pollution had deteriorated the local vegetation and changed the physicalities of the rocks around the city, leaving 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) of landscape barren or almost barren. Sudbury was stripped of its vegetation resulting in lakes without fish and blackened rocks, often compared to a moonscape or the barren nature of Martian landscapes. During those years, around 20,000 lakes in Ontario had been acidified into ecological damage; consequences that soon demonstrated the need for the superstack. 

Built in 1972 and standing at 1,250 feet (381 meters) tall, you can spot the smokestack from anywhere and everywhere in Sudbury. Mitigation techniques for industrial pollution at that stage were largely focused on dilution, and the Inco Superstack is a good example of this. Its height was created to transport the pollutants from the refinery into the winds high above the city to be carried far away–but the effects were still felt in Sudbury itself.

It’s About More Than Planting Trees

When the Laurentian University was established in 1960, one of the first things locals began to ask was whether the institution could do anything to revive Sudbury’s near barren landscape. 

Biologists at the university and at Inco began to experiment with regreening, by potting plants and then moving to plots outside. In 1975, the groundwork for a large-scale liming project—which would aid in neutralizing the soil and allow replanting of native flora—was established.

In a united effort to reverse the environmental toll of a century’s worth of intense mining, Sudbury began a regreening program that brought together the government, community leaders and Sudbury’s citizens to carry out land restoration and ecosystem projects. 

After years of suffering the consequences, enough was enough. Scientists, community members, politicians and industry officials came together to direct their efforts towards replanting trees, reducing pollution and reviving the lakes. 

Since 1978, these public programs have been responsible for liming 6.017 acres (2,435 hectares) of soil as well as planting over 10 million seedlings. But as vital as this regreening program was for Sudbury’s degrading environment, recent investigations suggest it actually had an alternative purpose.

The city’s extreme economic dependence on the mining industry had to be rethought. With an incredibly high number of layoffs in 1978, the regreening program was necessary for providing seasonal employment to the unemployed population in the city.

In a bid to up the environmental ante, residents and volunteers have been focused on replanting native species since 2010 and are working on helping the city meet its goals to be carbon neutral by 2050. After 40 years and $33.5 million Canadian dollars (U.S.$25.4 million), they are around halfway through the recovery of 200,000 acres of land. 

The iconic INCO smokestack was gradually decommissioned in July 2020 and replaced by two smaller towers that require less energy and will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by around 40%. But the stack still stands tall, towering over Sudbury. Whether it’s the bustling downtown streets or your quiet cul-de-sac neighborhoods, the giant structure serves as a token of reminder for the importance of the mining industry to the city—as well as how far Sudbury has come in its regreening journey.

Enjoy Sudbury’s New Green Status

To experience Sudbury’s re-greened surroundings, start off by going fishing in one of its many lakes. Lake Wanapitei is one of the largest lakes in Sudbury so grab your rod and reel out for some fishing—you’ll find species like walleye, trout, and bass.

For outdoor sports, Kivi Park is the place to go. With more than 480 acres of open space, it’s a popular spot for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, boating and more. Featuring wonderful waterways and beautiful biodiverse forests, Kivi Park is for the adventurer in you.

Following the recovery of 200,000 acres of land and the replanting of around 10 million trees, be sure to visit the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area where you’ll find 2,400 acres of protected green space that includes hiking trails, birdwatching areas, and a manmade lake.

Taking a more historical lens to being a tourist in Sudbury, here are your best options for stepping back in time and learning about Sudbury’s past:

Science North

Science North is one of the most popular attractions in Northern Ontario, which isn’t surprising considering it’s an interactive science museum with an IMAX theatre, its own planetarium, a butterfly gallery, and lots of displays on minerals, natural artifacts and more. The first floor has an exhibition titled Indegnious Ingenuity, displaying traditional indigenous innovations that contributed to science. It’s a great option for a family day out to keep the kids entertained while also making it a learning experience. 

The Big Nickel

The Big Nickel is an iconic landmark located at Dynamic Earth. Standing at 30 feet (9 meters) tall, the Big Nickel is a replica of a 1951 Canadian Nickel coin. Being the world’s largest coin, this famous attraction lends tribute to Sudbury’s long history of nickel mining. Make sure to grab a quick selfie with this roadside landmark before heading into Dynamic Earth.

Dynamic Earth

Under the wider umbrella of Science North, Dynamic Earth is a science center that focuses on earth science and mining experiences. What really draws visitors here is the underground mining tour. Visitors are taken seven stories underground to explore a real nickel mine. Keep your hard hats on to really immerse yourself into the experience, but they’re also required to be worn by law. 

The tour takes you through the history of mining in Sudbury, from the 1950s era to more modern mines. You’ll learn all about how technological advancements transformed the mining process in an interactive and engaging manner. Ensure to bring a warm layer with you as it does get a little cold that deep underground!

Clean air and blue skies make Northeastern Ontario the perfect destination for an outdoor adventure. Read our Northeastern Ontario Travel Guide for tips and tricks about the best activities to pursue when visiting this beautiful region.