Sudbury Looks to the Future – By Leslie Roberts (MacLean’s March 15, 1931) Part 1

Inco Advertising 1934With a veritable treasure store beneath its feet, Sudbury
is making ready for the morrow of an inevitable expansion

The city of Sudbury rates two separate paragraphs in any tome proclaiming the locations of World’s Biggest. In the mines and mills and smelters of International nickel, it houses the supplying source of the largest self-contained mining organization in the world. In the Frood, it possesses the greatest and richest mine developed by scientific mankind anywhere.

Thanks to the former, which owns the latter, the camp cannot be measured by the some yardsticks which prevail in other Canadian mining centres today. Sudbury is not a one mine town, as Noranda is; nor is it a group of independent enterprises such as one finds in the gold camps of Northern Ontario. Sudbury is the child of the Frood, the Creighton, the Garcon and other treasure troves; rich in nickel bearing ores and owned by the International Nickel with only one important exception, Falconbridge.

Sudbury’s prosperity is written on the time sheets of Coniston and its mate, the smelter in Copper Cliff, each a physical asset of Inco. Sudbury’s bustling shops, banks and office buildings draw breath of life from the smoke which belches from the stacks of International’s plants against the distant skyline – Sudbury, at first glance, is Sherbrooke or Moose Jaw or Moncton. But first and last Sudbury is International Nickel and International Nickel is Sudbury.

An Industry Built in Science

The compact region where ninety per cent of the world’s known supply of nickel is veined through the country rock has seen two great booms, and today is setting its house in order on the heels of the second of these eras. Great prosperity first came with the war, when its output was poured into Allied armaments as rapidly as it could be mined, smelted and refined. Peace brought the first real Sudbury slump, while experts stole away to their laboratories to seek new uses for the great war metal in a day when slaughter suddenly had become unpopular. The uses were found. Nickel doffed its khaki and horizon blue and became a civilian, lending itself to the fitting of ills, skyscrapers and homes, helping to build ships, locomotives and airplanes.

Sudbury boomed again. Its mills, its mines and its smelters resounded to human activity, twenty-four hours in the day and every day. On the fringes of the field diamond drills bored into the rock, drawing cores that would win fortunes, or lose them, for investors in the cities and towns “outside.” New Sudbury share issues were listed on the boards of Toronto and Montreal, some good, some so-so, many that were hopeless from the start.

The producing mines boomed. The mines-in-the-making – and mines that never could be made – boomed. The town boomed. Then world depression came and the market crashed, while scandals robbed the public of its confidence in the mine maker’s trade throughout the Dominion. For a second time the management of Sudbury’s big show, now welded into one great nickel combine by the marriage of International and Mond, dug heels into the turf of readjustment. The crash sent share prices cascading, drowning out the huge speculative element which waded and bathed on the Nickel margin beach. Decline in metal prices and the public’s loss of faith in early-stage mining methods in vogue halted operations of a hundred companies which were endeavoring wither to make new mines or to mine new suckers, according t the viewpoint of their promoters. For a second time the nickel country came down to bedrock.

Today Sudbury rests its case on the future of International Nickel, but the case is good, for the return to prosperity only waits for the day when people will have more money to spend for things fashioned from it nickel and copper. The scientists are still at work in their laboratories, seeking – and finding – more new uses for Sudbury’s ores, giving an added fillip to demand, even in times of duress. Construction of latter-stage processing plants, such as the new refinery in Copper Cliff, of which Nickel is part owner, is opening out new fields of employment for Canadians by keeping out raw materials at home for treatment. Sudbury, in short, is getting by while Canada turns the corner, equipping itself meanwhile for greater and more complete production than ever, once the ghosts of world depression are laid.

“You Can’t Keep the North Country Down”

I came there fresh from the days spent in the gold camps which lie up the T. and N.O., loaded with optimism born of contact with hustling production for times were never better with Canada’s gold mines. Coming down the line, Pullman smokers had been put to the use for which the makers intend3d them, and I had talked with half a dozen fellow travelers whom I never saw before and probably shall never meet again. Of each I asked the naive question, “How are things in Sudbury?”

None of the answers were couched in anything even mildly resembling a happy vein. The machinery salesmen allowed they were not so good, even though smelter and refinery construction had been a help to fellows in his line. The wholesale grocer’s traveler was by no means sanguine, but was given discount marks on the grounds that association with sugar and spice does not seem to give one broad, cheery outlook, no matter what the health of trade is. The young engineer said things were pretty dull, but what could you expect with copper around ten cents and nobody spending a farthing if he could find an excuse for keeping it in his pants? Other opinions, including those of the sleeping-car conductor and a dark gentleman who wanted to brush my coat were no brighter. By the time dunnage was surrendered to a taxi driver I was wondering if he would be able to dodge the bodies of suicides lying in the streets.
But the town failed to live down to the plaintive cries of the Pullman press agents. The hotel dining room was well filled by businesslike men who went about the pleasures of lunch with the air of having definite things to do later. The streets were hustling streets with more than their share of freight-laden trucks and no sign of the loiterers peculiar to communities on the downgrade. The clerk in the Nickel Range Hotel admitted that affairs were not quite up to scratch, but added, “Everybody seems to be trying to make a dollar,” not a bad sign. A friend who calls Sudbury home dropped in, but refused to weep when I suggested that he might as well be in his living room listening to the radio as out trying to sell his wares in the man’s town.

“It isn’t as tough as you might think,” quoth Creany, “provided a fellow keeps plugging. You can’t keep the north country down, even though you try to lie down beside it.”

Later in the day I went to see Mayor Peter Fenton for the purpose of hearing what is sometimes called the low-down. What about unemployment and its relief? Where there many destitute families in the Sudbury district? What has the ghoul called Hard Times done to the camp? Let the chief magistrate tell the story in his own words:

“Times are not good in Sudbury, but I haven’t heard Montreal, Toronto or Winnipeg boasting. Things are better here than in most places, because we know it is only a matter of time.

“At the turn of the year we had about fifteen hundred unemployed on our hands, of whom a great many were drifters who came to Sudbury before the depression hit us. Between the Ontario Municipal Board and the city fathers we raised a large fund for public works, and commenced construction of new sewers and water mains and began straightening out the creek which runs through the town. Unemployed men were used on eight-hour shifts, and work was parceled out so that everyone got three days time a week.

“Then we borrowed the keys to the old jail from the Provincial Government and have used it principally to house drifters. During the worst weeks of the winter one hundred and twenty-five men have been quartered in the cells. The city has fed them and given them blankets. So you don’t see begging in the streets of Sudbury, nor men sleeping out in alleys.

“International Nickel has been running relief works as well, drawing men from the civic registration bureau at the rate of about seventy-five a day and using them for odds and ends of work.

“Townspeople who were fortified against hard times have helped with donations of money and foodstuffs. We haven’t had much trouble keeping our people in food and, in most cases, in lodging.”

“But isn’t it an alarming condition, when all is said and done?” I asked, thinking of 1,500 unemployed men in a district, where total population hovers about the 30,000 mark.

“It might be if the camp had no future,” the mayor replied, “but we are not in that position in Sudbury. The plants are here to do the work. We know that we have nine-tenth of the world’s discovered nickel in our proven mines. It is just a case of keeping plugging until the world turns the corner. Sudbury can’t miss.”

There is a watchword in the sentences of this keen Scots-Canadian who divides his time between the municipal seals and the insurance traffic: Keep plugging and you can’t miss. The townsfolk of Sudbury appear to be convinced that here is basic truth, so they stick to the job, heads up.

The phrase might well be written into our national credo as a motto for those who take their heads in their hands and moan that good times are gone forever. Easy money is gone, but good times will return.

One has only to ponder the visible assets of this great corporate structure called International Nickel to realize that Fenton is right and that the pundits of the Pullman were wrong.

On the mining side, root of the great combine’s future prosperity, there is not only the Frood, richest mine in the world, but the Creighton, ranking not far behind, and other great caverns of wealth such as the Levack and Garcon properties.

At Coniston, on the Eastern edge of the field, the great smelting equipment which came into the International Nickel fold with the absorption of Mond, pours its billows of smoke toward the clouds, its very fumes sold to a customer for conversion into sulphuric acid. On the western side of the camp, in Copper Cliff, another great smelter has been completed within recent months, while a sum in excess $2,000,000 is being expended to provide equipment and buildings adjoining the smelter to handle more advantageously a portion of the process now carried on in the refinery at Port Colborne, Ontario.

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