Sudbury – The Republic of Nickel (Part 4 of 4) – Stan Sudol

The summer of 1969 was the beginning of the end of Sudbury’s commanding control of global nickel production. The labour disruptions that summer and fall would impact the industry for the next few decades. The Inco miners went on strike on July 10, 1969 with the Falconbridge workers joining them in the third week of August. They did not settle with until mid-November. The industrial economies of Britain and the U.S., both of which imported almost all of their nickel from Canada suffered greatly.

The London Times headlines screamed “The Nickel Crisis” and “Whitehall and CBI May Soon Declare Nickel Emergency.”  It was the most severe materials shortages both countries had experienced since World War Two. In the U.S. nickel stockpiles had to guarded by armed police to prevent theft. U.S. military production remained unaffected due to the government strategic stockpile.

It was the last time the “Sudbury nickel lion” roared. By bringing U.S. and British industry to their knees the Sudbury workers ensured that billions would be spent over the next few years to finally break their monopoly on this strategic metal.

In the early seventies, the increasing population growth in Sudbury and the surrounding towns forced the province to impose a two-tier system of regional government in 1973. The chaotic development was finally streamlined, urban sprawl controlled and the cost of public services lowered. The tax base was also broadened, industrial parks built for diversification initiatives and the level of services across the region reached the median of the province. But constant fighting between the central city and suburban small towns continued.

The End of the Post-War Nickel Boom

By the late seventies, the ensuing glut of nickel devastated the industry. The 1977 layoffs and the 1978 strike, one of the longest on record, heralded a general commodity slump that, with a few very brief periods, lasted for the rest of the century.

There were two separate legacies from the devastating layoffs. The first was mining labour productivity. Today, with many technological advances, the Sudbury miners are among the most productive in the world.

The second was a commitment by the community of Sudbury to diversify the economy. Sudbury has become the medical, educational and government and business service centre for Northeastern Ontario. The first major government initiative was the federal taxation data centre completed in 1982. The local MP at the time, Jim Jerome was instrumental in bringing the centre to the community, an enduring legacy.

The Science Centre, which opened in 1984, has established the community as a prime tourist destination. The tourism sector generates about $160 million worth of economic activity. The next project is the second phase $10 million expansion of Dynamic Earth.

The Cancer Treatment Centre was opened in 1991 further solidifying the community’s role as northeastern Ontario’s health centre. The David Peterson Liberals relocated the Ontario Geological Survey and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to Sudbury in 1992. The world class Sudbury Neutrino Observatory opened in 1998 to further particle physics research.

In September 2005, Canada’s first new medical school in thirty years accepted students at campuses in Sudbury and Thunder Bay. The facilities will become centres of northern and rural medical proficiency. The city has a long history of good medical services. Dr Paul Field of Sudbury conducted Canada’s first successful aorta-coronary by-pass opertion at the Sudbury Memorial Hospital on December 4, 1968. The provincial government recently announced plans to provide funding to finally complete the Sudbury Regional Hospital by 2009. The partially completed project was abandoned in 2002 after costs skyrocketed to $366 million, three times the original figure.

Sudbury was one of the first municipalities in the province to establish an advanced telecommunications infrastructure based on a high speed fibre optic network. Call centres are one of the major employers in the community providing about 2,000 jobs.

Sudbury Becomes World Leader in Landscape Restoration

Few places in Canada have suffered the environmental damage that Sudbury has endured for almost a century of mining activity. In the summer of 1971, Apollo astronauts trained for their moon walks in Sudbury because the basin is a meteor impact site similar to rock structure on the moon. Unfortunately, when the national media picked up the story, it sounded like the reason for the visit was Sudbury’s barren and moon-like environment.
The community started a massive revegetation program in 1978 that has transformed the region’s bleak moonscape terrain into an environmental success story. Over 11 million trees have been planted and the community has received many international awards for their restoration successes. Sudbury has 330 urban lakes situated within the municipal boundaries, a number unmatched anywhere in the country. Unique environmental initiatives helped restore many previously damaged lakes and current monitoring programs ensure their long term protection.

Since 1986, Inco has invested $845 million to reduce their SO2 emissions at their Sudbury operations from over 700,000 tonnes per year to below the current regulatory limit of 265,000 tonnes per year dramatically improving the region’s air quality. The company is spending an additional $115 million on a fluid bed roaster project that will further reduce emissions by 34 per cent by 2006 to 175,000 tonnes per year. The community experiences a much lower regular level of air pollution rating than Toronto or Hamilton.

With a cluster of more than 250 companies supplying the local mining sector and extensive industry-oriented research at the local university and colleges, Sudbury is the dynamic epicenter of hard-rock mining innovation in this country and is transforming itself into the “Silicon Valley” of the mining sector.

The Ontario government recognizes this global expertise and recently funded Laurentian University $10 million to help launch the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation. The mining centre will focus on mining exploration, deep mining research, integrated mine process engineering, telerobotics and automation, and environment and reclamation.

Recently, Inco Limited announced a $5 million contribution to this initiative, the largest private sector donation to date. 

Another Hundred Years of Mining in the Sudbury Camp

Mark Cutifani, Inco’s President North America/Europe said, “Sudbury’s rich history and promising future makes it the perfect location for an institution promoting mining excellence and innovation. The Sudbury operations are vital to the success of our company. This centre will promote innovation and the application of technology that is absolutely critical for the extension of the life of this mining camp for another 100 years.”

On January 1, 2001, Sudbury renewed its governance once again by eliminating the two local levels of municipal services. The provincial government mandated this reform in order to simplify services, reduce the number of municipalities in the province, integrate planning and save operating costs. A number of smaller townships were incorporated and the new municipality is known as the City of Greater Sudbury.

The recent friendly takeover of Falconbridge Limited by nickel rival Inco Limited will create a global mining powerhouse that will be the largest global producer of nickel. Tony Naldret, one of the world’s leading geological experts on nickel sulphide deposits estimates that Sudbury’s total contribution, historical and reserves still in the ground is about U.S. $370 billion. This figure only counts the value of nickel, copper and platinum group metals.

The Basin is the third largest producer of platinum group metals in the world – a by product of the refining process – after the Bushvelt complex in South Africa and Russia’s incredibly rich nickel deposits in the Siberian community of Norilsk.

According to the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, over the next 50 years the world will use five times all the mineral supplies that have ever been mined up to the year 2000.

China’s ravenous resource appetite, sparked by its explosive growth, is creating an economic tidal wave around the world, leaving no commodity producing nation untouched.

India, Brazil, Russia and many other developing countries are also modernizing their standards of living and placing unprecedented demands on the globe’s mineral resources. We are entering a commodity boom or mineral supercycle that will last for decades.

Many new mineral discoveries in the Sudbury Basin confirm that this tiny oval geological wonder (60km x 40km) has not given up all her mineral secrets.

In fact, Sudbury is still the richest mining district in North America and among the top ten most significant globally.

And the world and all levels of government will still be benefiting from Sudbury’s mineral wealth and the hard-rock mining expertise of its citizens for many years to come.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based excutive speech writer and communications consultant who writes extensively on mining issues. He can be reached at