The judicial seat for the District of Sudbury, the City of Greater Sudbury lies on the western edge of Ramsey Lake (approximately 60 km north of Georgian Bay). Its incorporation in 2001 replaced the former Regional Municipality of Sudbury, that had been in existence since 1973, and amalgamated the cities of Sudbury and Valley East as well as the towns of Capreol, Nickel Centre, Onaping Falls, Rayside-Balfour and Walden. Historically known as a mining and union-based community (and home to the world's second tallest smokestack), Greater Sudbury is now recognized as the largest city in northeastern Ontario.


Inhabitation of the Sudbury area began approximately 9,000 years ago following the retreat of the last continental ice sheet. By the time of European arrival, the region north of Lake Huron and surrounding Lake Superior had been dominated by the Ojibwa people for hundreds of years. A major Algonquian-speaking nation, the Ojibwa were fishers and hunter-gatherers who typically lived in temporary encampments.

By contrast to the more temperate and fertile areas of what is now southern Ontario, the area around Ramsey Lake was relatively sparse in population. Some of the first major demographic shifts in the region began in the mid-17th century as a result of the French fur trade based in Sault Ste. Marie. As Ojibwa bands came to rely increasingly on European goods, the hunt for fur-bearing animals became more competitive, pushing some bands further afield and in many cases provoking conflict among them.

Following a series of British military victories over the French, in 1791 the Hudson’s Bay Company temporarily claimed the territory. Ojibwan relations were far more congenial with the French than they were with the British, whose interest in the territory was not limited to the fur trade, but more oriented toward long-term colonization and mineral extraction. Tensions grew in the early 19th century as white people began arriving in the area to prospect for copper and other minerals. The government ignored Ojibwa bands’ written complaints of illegal trespassing.

White traders, prospectors and land surveyors were increasingly present in the region through the subsequent years, but it would not be until three decades later, with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), that the town of Sudbury was established.


In the winter of 1883, approximately 3,350 workers arrived on the site of modern Sudbury and had erected the town’s first buildings by March. Initially slated to be a simple depot for the CPR, the settlement began as a definitive company town and was named by CPR Superintendent James Worthington after his wife’s birthplace in England. Few had imagined that the remote outpost, surrounded by swamps and stony outcrops, would become one of the largest settlements in northern Ontario.

Lumber developed as the first local industry and was modest in scale, but interest in the town swelled in 1885 with multiple discoveries of copper and other minerals within the Sudbury Basin. It was rumoured that the Ojibwa had mined copper in the area, and more recent developments - including mineral discoveries in the upper Michigan Peninsula and documentation from the Geological Survey of Canada - garnered the attention of the extractive sector.

Indeed, the Sudbury Basin would prove to be one of the most unusual geological formations in Canada. Formed by a major meteorite impact approximately 1.8 billion years ago, the basin is approximately 60 km in length and 30 km in width, and is rich not only in copper but also in nickel and platinum ores.


Sudbury's early growth was constrained by railway lines and the area's topography. The community was also hindered by the lack of a solid tax base, receiving no taxes from the mining industry until the advent of regional government in 1973. Settlement in the community expanded outwards along the major roads divided by rocky ridges. New residential areas sprouted in the West End, Donovan, Minnow Lake, New Sudbury and Lockerby districts. Following the expansion of the mining industry in the 1950s, urban settlement also expanded beyond the city boundaries into the agricultural ‘valley’ to the north, as well as into other fringe areas to the west and south. It was this indiscriminate sprawl that laid the foundation for the eventual establishment of regional government in 1973 and the new unified city in 2001.

Due to logging, forest fires and pollution from open roast yards, vegetation in Sudbury was sparse, and consisted mainly of poplar and birch species. Sudbury thus gained the unenviable reputation of being one of the most unattractive urban places in Canada. However, beginning in 1973, the region began to be transformed by the world's largest urban re-greening and environmental rehabilitation scheme. Since then, 3,300 ha of badly damaged land has been rehabilitated. In recognition of these efforts, Sudbury received a number of awards between 1986 and 1992. These included the Government of Canada Environmental Achievement Award, the United States Chevron Conservation Award and the Local Government Honours Award from the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The city is also home to an abundance of lakes. There are 219 lakes within its boundaries, including Lake Ramsey, the largest city-contained lake (8.25 km2) in North America.

The cityscape encompasses several buildings of architectural merit, including Cecil Facer Youth Centre, Tom Davies Square, Coulson Hotel, Randolph Centre, Revenue Canada Taxation Data Centre and many of the city's churches.


The city of Sudbury's population was 2,027 in 1901 and it doubled in each census decade up to 1931; as a result of a major amalgamation and annexation (1960) it rose to 80,120 by 1961. With another expansion in 1973, the city reached 91,829 by 1981. As a result of the creation of the new city in 2001, the population rose to 155,601. In 2011, the population was 160,770.

The strong presence of Irish, French-Canadian, Polish and Italian communities has led to a strong Catholic influence in the city. From the outset, the two largest ethnic groups were the British and the French, who, in 1901, comprised approximately 55 and 35 per cent of the population respectively. Although they lived in separate areas of the city and centred their social lives on different churches, relations between the two groups were fairly congenial. Today, Sudbury remains one of the largest francophone communities in Ontario, with about 28 per cent of locals listing French as their mother tongue in 2011.

Economy and Labour Force

Sudbury has traditionally been known as a mining-based resource community. The first mining company, Canadian Copper, was formed in 1886 and started smelting operations in 1888. In 1902, Canadian Copper merged with Orford Refining Company to form the giant International Nickel Company of Canada, later Inco Ltd. By 1915 Sudbury mines provided 80 per cent of the world's production of nickel. The supremacy of the Sudbury Basin was reinforced by the formation of Falconbridge Nickel Mines (now Xstrata Nickel) in 1928. To this day, the Sudbury Basin remains one of the world's largest sources of nickel. In addition, the local ore contains lead, zinc, silver, gold, cobalt, platinum, selenium and tellurium.

Not surprisingly, the development of Sudbury has been profoundly affected by the boom and bust history associated with the fluctuating demands of the nickel industry. In fact, Canadian Copper struggled to find a market for nickel in the first years of its existence, but in the 1890s the material started to be used in the manufacture of armour plating, thus forging a link between the local mines and the military that would persist for several decades.

Until the Second World War the mining industry provided by far the major source of employment for the regional economy. Employment in the sector reached its peak level of 26,000 in 1971, but declined in the subsequent decades due to restructurings at INCO and Falconbridge, dipping below 6,000 by 2005. INCO, the larger of the two companies, was bought by the Brazilian firm Vale in 2006, and as of 2010 its unionized employees total about 3,000.

Despite this employment decline, however, mining output has been maintained at a high level through the introduction of continuous mining techniques and the use of innovative technology. In fact, Sudbury has emerged as a home for mining technology and, as a result of the city's success in land reclamation, it has established itself as a world centre for environmental science related to mining. The city now supports over a dozen research institutes. Those affiliated with Laurentian University include the Centre for Research in Human Development, Centre for Mining Materials Research, Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, Geomechanics Research Centre, Institut Franco-Ontarien, Institute of Northern Ontario Research and Development, and the Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research. The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology is housed at Cambrian College.

Sudbury is also home to the world's largest neutrino detector, operated by the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). Fully operational since 1999, SNO is collecting data that will provide revolutionary insight into the properties of neutrinos (a type of elementary particle) and the core of the sun. It places the city at centre stage for international research in the field of subatomic physics research.

During the 1960s, the city became an important educational and retraining centre following the creation of Laurentian University and Cambrian College. In 1995, Sudbury also became the location of the main campus of the French-language college, Collège Boréal.

Many government jobs, particularly within provincial administration and services such as the Ontario Geological Survey, have relocated to Sudbury. In the financial and business service sector, Sudbury has become the home to the northeastern Ontario headquarters for numerous banks and several call centres.

As a result of the construction of Science North (1984), and its associated IMAX theatre and Big Nickel Mine attractions, the city has emerged as the most popular tourist destination in northern Ontario. During the winter months, the Sudbury Trail Plan, which consists of 1,200 km of snowmobile trails, provides numerous economic spinoffs.


After 1883, rail connections were established with Sault Ste Marie (1887) and Toronto (1908). Highway links with North Bay and Sault Ste Marie were initiated in 1912. In 1956, Highway 69 south to Gravenhurst was opened. The first connection with Timmins, via Highway 144, began in 1970. Air service has been provided by the Sudbury Municipal Airport since 1954.


The city serves as a communications centre. Several newspapers can be found in the area, including Northern Life, Northern Ontario Business, the Sudbury Star and the Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal. Greater Sudbury is also the home of Laurentian Media Group.

Government and Politics

Town and city status were acquired in 1893 and 1930, respectively. In 1973, Sudbury became part of the Regional Municipality of Sudbury, which included the towns of Capreol, Nickel Centre, Onaping Falls, Rayside-Balfour, Valley East (later a city, 1998) and Walden. The government structure was two-tiered, consisting of a regional council of 20 members and a chairperson, and seven local councils. This political structure disappeared in 2001, and was replaced by a single-tiered municipality consisting of 12 wards, 12 councillors and a mayor.

Cultural Life

The cultural scene has been enhanced by the establishment of Laurentian University (1960), Cambrian College (1967) and the French-language Collège Boréal (1995). Sudbury has three main museums: Laurentian Museum and Arts Centre, Flour Mill Museum and Copper Cliff Museum. Theatre is performed by the Sudbury Theatre Centre, Theatre Cambrian and Le Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario. The Philharmonic Society (1957) was reconstituted in 1975 as the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra. Sudbury has a number of festivals; among those presented annually are the Northern Lights Festival Boreal, Fringe Nord, Cinéfest, the Blueberry Festival and the Snowflake Festival.

The city is well endowed with sports and recreational facilities, the largest being the Sudbury Arena. Sudbury was also the first Ontario city to have an Olympic-size swimming pool, which was built at Laurentian University in 1971 and was home of swimmer Alex Baumann, winner of two Olympic gold medals at Los Angeles in 1984. There are five provincial parks nearby. In the city, the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area is a popular destination.