The man responsible for the creation of one of Canada’s best-known landmarks has died at age 81. Ted Szilva was an ambitious young firefighter when he came up with the idea of producing a giant coin as a symbol for the world’s nickel capital.
The replica 1951 nickel, which cost $35,000, led to the creation of Big Nickel Mine, an attraction of Science North, and eventually Dynamic Earth.
Szilva went against public opinion when he set out to produce the Big Nickel. He raised the funds to create the Big Nickel monument by selling medallions and coins he developed. ”I would get $6,000 to $7,000 in one day through the sale of the medallions,” he said told The Sudbury Star’s Harold Carmichael in 2003. He could not get bank financing because he was told his was a “crackpot” idea.
He situated the coin on a 17-acre site east of Copper Cliff which he purchased for $1,000. After the Big Nickel was unveiled in July 1964, an underground model mine followed in 1965. So did several other large coins, including a 1965 Lincoln penny, $20 gold coin and a Kennedy 50-cent coin. They no longer stand at the site. While Szilva would be best known for the iconic nickel, that wasn’t his only community accomplishment.
He was behind the creation of the Grand Theatre, produced several unique coins, played a major role in the Pot O’ Gold Lottery in the 1980s and ran for mayor of the Nickel City in the mid-1980s. In 2003, as he approached his 69th birthday, he spoke to Carmichael about new projects in the works at a time most people are thinking of retiring and taking it easier.
Not Szilva. “At 69, if you just sit back and relax, you die. You have to keep active in life,” he said.
At that time, Szilva was marketing a device called the D-Best Keyholder, designed to make it easier to put keys on a ring and take them off. It was marketed as an invention particularly helpful to people with arthritis or other conditions of the hands.
It sold for $3 and more than 10,000 of them were sold shortly after he invented it.
Szilva knew how to market an idea, and that is what he did in the 1960s to create the Big Nickel.
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