Oiva Saarinen is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Geography at Laurentian University. He has published many articles on Sudbury’s past and is author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Historical Geography of the Finns in the Sudbury Area. This article was originally published in Ontario History/Volumn LXXXII, Number 1/March 1990.
Towards a Self-Reliant Community
In 1984 Sudbury was chosen by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Government of Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs as an international case study of a declining metropolis that had made a successful urban-economic adjustment after a period of decline. The study confirmed that the Sudbury region had overcome many of the obstacles it had inherited from the 1970s and was on the path towards a more sustainable future.52 The report, however, dealt largely with events that had taken place during the previous decade and devoted considerable attention to political factors. This paper asserts that other long-and short-term factors need to be emphasized as well if the basis for this transitional phase is to be more fully appreciated. In fact, many of the fundamental preconditions for this rapid adjustment from decline towards revitalization and sustainability already existed as far back as the 1950s.
For example, after 1951 the size of the region’s population was unique among Canadian resource-based economies. The foundations for the City of Sudbury as a central-place, already well established during the 1950s and 1960s, were strengthened considerably in the ensuing decade. The post-war birth of a white-collar class and its growing influence stimulated fundamental changes to the economic, political, and socio-cultural order. These three long-term preconditions were complemented by four more recent impulses: creative political leadership at the local and regional levels, financial assistance from the two senior levels of government, increases in productivity by Inco and Falconbridge, and finally, the creation of forward and backward linkages within the mining industry.
In the dynamics of the current metamorphosis phase, community size has been of paramount importance. According to the 1986 census, the Regional Municipality of Sudbury supported a population of more than 152,000. While this figure does not approach the 250,000 often proposed as the minimum for community sustainability, it nevertheless acted as a brake to slow down the decline. The fact that Sudbury was a declining metropolis gave it considerable influence with the provincial and federal governments. Arguing that “no nation is so affluent that it can afford to throwaway a major city,” Sudbury used this political leverage to its fullest advantage. 53