‘It’s history, like it or not’: the Significance of Sudbury’s Superstack

By: Mike Commito and Kaleigh Bradley

Standing at a height of 1,250 feet, the Sudbury Superstack is the second tallest chimney in the world and runner-up to the CN Tower for the tallest structure in Canada. Until 1987, Sudbury Ontario had the dubious honour of having the world’s tallest smokestack. Today, the Stack is seen by some as a marker for Sudbury’s rich mining heritage but for others, it is also part of a much larger history of health and environmental problems.

stack_clarke

“Sudbury and the Beast.” Courtesy of local photographer Greta Clarke.

Since the nineteenth century, Sudbury’s landscape was ravaged by the effects of the mining industry; over the years the vegetation disappeared with acid rain, and farmers found themselves unable to grow crops in the highly acidic soil. The International Nickel Company (INCO) built the Superstack in 1972 to disperse sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants away from the area, thereby addressing health and environmental concerns. The Stack’s construction coincided with a community regreening movement, which has reversed some of the environmental damage. The Superstack reduced local emission rates in recent years, but one could argue that INCO simply passed the buck, and the dispersion of SO2 became somebody else’s problem. Moreover, the Sudbury area continues to have higher rates of asthma and lung cancer than other parts of Ontario. For better or for worse, the Superstack has been a landmark along the Sudbury skyline for over forty years. And when Vale (formerly INCO) recently proposed demolishing the Superstack in the local media, we watched as an interesting public debate about the significance, history, and future of the stack ensued.

Continue reading

Sudbury: The Journey from Moonscape to Sustainably Green

Roast yard near Victoria Mines, Sudbury 1898.  Greater Sudbury Historical Database.

Roast yard near Victoria Mines, Sudbury 1898. Greater Sudbury Historical Database.

The image of Sudbury, Ontario has long been associated with mining, smelting, and a barren landscape.  Perhaps most famously, the landscape of Sudbury has been said to be comparable to the landscape present on the moon.  Similarly, the image of the towering Sudbury Superstack is one which holds sway in the minds of many Canadians.  However, since the 1970s Sudbury has put considerable financial and community resources into mitigating the ecological impact of mining on the community.

Nickel was identified in the Sudbury Basin as early as 1750. Despite this discovery the early years of industry in Sudbury were dominated by forestry. By the mid 1880s forest fires and clear cut logging had already contributed to significant alteration of the natural landscape of Sudbury.

The industrial scars on the landscape increased as the mining industry developed in the area.  In 1888 the first roast yard and smelter were established in Copper Cliff, and marked the beginning of large scale mining in the Sudbury area. Between 1913 and 1916 the Mond Nickel Company removed all vegetation from the Coniston area to provide fuel for the roasting yard.

The roasting method was used by mining companies in Sudbury until 1929 as the primary means of separating minerals.  Fueled by cordwood these beds resulted in clouds of sulfur dioxide spreading from the beds at ground level. The roast beds have been blamed for much of the environmental destruction in Sudbury.  However, it has also been argued that the later smelter technology also contributed to considerable environmental devastation by releasing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.[i]

The result of years of continuous mining and expulsion of associated pollutants resulted in approximately 7,000 lakes within 17,000 square kilometers being acidified, 20,000 hectares of barren land being created in which no vegetation grows and significant erosion has occurred, and 80,000 hectares of semi-barren land.[ii]  Continue reading

A Small Spark, a Big Flame: Two Wildcat Vignettes from the Summer of ’66

By Ian Milligan

Today’s Air Canada wildcat strikes, which led to widespread delays and cancellations at Toronto’s Pearson and Montreal’s Dorval airports, surprised many Canadians. That it could all begin with a seemingly minor issue – the suspension of a number of workers who sarcastically applauded Labour Minister Lisa Raitt as she debarked from a flight last night – is, however, familiar when compared to the “wildcat wave” that was in full swing throughout the summer of 1966.

Indeed, the events of the last 36 hours are reminiscent of several large events that swept the Canadian industrial scene throughout that hot summer of labour unrest. In this post, I’ll take us back to that wild summer of unrest, and help show that the Air Canada wildcat strike is hardly a unique phenomenon. Continue reading

Connecting Past, Present and Future: A Website Review of Stacey Zembrycki’s “Sharing Authority With Baba”

Internet sources can present challenges in the university classroom, but they also offer many new, exciting, creative learning opportunities. Rather than barring internet sources altogether, we should be teaching our students to engage critically with a range of sources, including the many great digital projects available online.

One such example is Stacey Zembrycki’s website, “Sharing Authority With Baba: A Collaborative History of Sudbury’s Ukrainian Community, 1901-1939.” Produced through Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS), this site serves as an exemplary model of the innovative ways that scholarly work can be shared in a digital format. Continue reading

“Come On Over”: Call-In Collaborative History in Northeastern Ontario

The 'Come on Over' Website

When up in the Sudbury and Manitoulin areas for a quick research trip in mid-September, driving several hundred kilometres, I became well-acquainted with CBC Sudbury. On Morning North, there was a regular program by two Laurentian University professors conducting research for their upcoming book Come on Over: Northeastern Ontario A-Z. In what sounds like a cross between an encyclopedia and a guidebook, the community really seemed engaged in its production. Continue reading

South Yorkshire and the Nickel Belt: Parallels to Avoid

Lake in Canada's Nickel Belt near Sudbury

David Zylberberg

From at least 1929, the Nickel Belt region around Sudbury was the main operation of two large and generally successful mining companies, INCO and Falconbridge. Although there were a number of labour disputes, periodic layoffs and major expansions, the situation largely continued until the commodity boom of the mid 2000s. There was a spate of acquisitions and mergers in the international mining sector and the world’s second and third largest nickel companies received global interest. In 2006, Falconbridge was acquired by a Swiss Company, XSTRATA, while INCO became part of Brazilian VALE in a $19 billion dollar sale. Since these both involved the sale of Canadian companies to foreign investors, they fell under the regulation of the Investment Canada Act, which states that such takeovers must be a net benefit to Canada. The recently elected Harper government agreed to both sales with a list of conditions that have never been made public, although it is widely understood that both companies promised not to layoff any Canadian employees for 3 years.

Continue reading

May Day in Hamilton, Ontario

march 1The first of May, celebrated in many nations across the world as Labour Day or International Workers Day, has a long tradition of worker’s activism and protest.  This year was no different, as protestors around the world rallied to send various messages to governments.

May Day is not officially recognized as Labour Day in northern North America, despite its North American roots, which stretch back to the 1886 Haymarket affair, and the struggle for the eight-hour workday.  In 1958, to separate workers’ celebrations between the US and USSR, Congress officially designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in the US, while Labor Day was moved to the first Monday in September.  This also marks official Labour Day celebrations in Canada. Continue reading