We came to Sudbury with two goals in mind: to see the Giant Nickel and to celebrate the blueberry festival. We accomplished both -- in our own way.
Sudbury is home to INCO, the International Nickel Corporation. The city started out as a CP railhead around 1900, but quickly converted to a typical mining town when prospectors discovered the Sudbury basin, possibly formed by a meteor strike and loaded with nickel. Now it's a typical mining town, with a population over 100,000. The locals claim that the Sudbury mines are second only to a certain Russian mine in nickel production. There's Wild blueberries certainly a striking contrast between the soft-spoken farmers and quiet vacationers on Manitoulin Island and the rough-cut, tough-looking Sudbury men and women. Miners are no-nonsense people, and they know from first-hand experience that life is dangerous.
The Sudbury basin was famous for its desolate "moonscape;" in fact it was even used for astronaut training. But Sudbury has received international acclaim for its reforestation project; literally millions of trees have been planted over the last thirty years. Today a drive through the basin is like a drive through the nearby country, with small towns and wooded scenery. Of course the actual mine locations are surrounded by enormous mountains of slag.
Making virtue out of necessity, the Sudbury leaders have obtained federal and provincial funding and established huge science and mining museums. We weren't in the mood for science and mining, but we recommend these museums anyway -- Science North, housed in interconnected dome buildings near a lakefront park, features IMAX and interactive exhibits; and its satellite, The Dynamic Earth, uses an old mine shaft for a deep ride underground. We did take a photograph of the Big Nickel, located outside the entrance to The Dynamic Earth.
We had a guide to Ontario events, which we'd picked up in Windsor, which promised that Sudbury was having a two-week long Blueberry Festival, starting the day of our arrival. Nobody at the hotel seemed to know much, but we finally saw an article in the newspaper which said the local artists were going to paint the town blue. We wanted to eat blueberries. We read enough to learn that the entire area is covered with wild blueberry bushes, and Sudbury's Big Nickel we know that wild blueberries, or huckleberries, taste sweeter and tangier than their larger, paler, cultivated brethren that are offered in American supermarkets. The local Sudburians go out into the field and pick the blueberries, and when they have enough baskets, they set up roadside stands (usually working from their cars) and sell them to travellers.
Well, we drove around for hours. We knew the blueberries were there, because we found them growing just behind an "INCO NO TRESPASSING" sign, which we ignored to sample a few. Delicious. We decided to find some of the roadside stands, but all we saw were signs "We Buy Blueberries." We even went in -- no we haven't seen any, yet -- it might be a little too early. At breakfast and lunch we looked for blueberry pie, blueberry cheesecake, etc., but nary a mention. We finally gave up in despair, deciding that all the harvest was going to local private festival events or else to be shipped out of town for premium prices. But -- miracle of miracles -- as we were driving south leaving Sudbury we found a car parked by the road. We bought one small basket (most of the packages were larger, for cooking) and later on combined the blueberries with maple syrup and local cream for a wonderful treat, which we ate in Parry Sound!
In Sudbury, we had a downtown Best Western, clearly well used, with some real defects, such as unprotected parking and no ramps and many maintenance needs. But the manager was a nice young woman from "T-O" (Toronto) who was just starting her second marriage. Her husband was a Sudbury cop (he gave extra protection to the parking lot). She thought the new owners had lots of money and would change the hotel into a Marriott franchisee, Thirty Thousand Islands channel perhaps a Courtyard or Fairfield Inn. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army shelter across the street was doing a booming business in drying out lost souls and giving them soup. But our room was nice enough, and we are getting quite adept at setting up space for our two networked laptop computers along with their external backup drives.
Near Sudbury, in Lively, we visited the Anderson Dairy Farm, built around 1900 by a hard-working Finnish immigrant couple. Father worked in the mines while mother ran the most modern dairy in the region, with an enormous milking barn and all the latest conveniences. The dairy furnished quite a few jobs, and kept about 150 cows, plus pigs and chickens. The cows were milked by hand in shifts of about 30, throughout the day. A home-designed pooper-scooper was suspended from a railing, and a young boy could keep the manure moving from the little concrete ditch behind the cows to the traveling box, then through a hatch to the outdoor manure pile. The barn had running water for hygiene -- a first for the time. A Finnish company recently used the farm as a movie set, and our guide was most impressed by the strange-sounding Finnish language.
Sudbury is home to a large French-speaking population, as we can attest from a stop at a French-speaking cafe. Most of the French-speakers appeared to be totally bilingual. According to the literature, a number of different ethnic groups have gathered in the region and work in or about the mines, so the region is quite multicultural. But unfortunately the unemployment in Sudbury is nearly 10%, and shows no signs of long-term improvement.
Parry Sound turns out to be a wholly different kind of place. We stayed in our motel room when it rained steadily the first day, and then took advantage of the morning sunshine for a lovely three-hour cruise on the Island Queen, visiting the Thirty Thousand Islands. The good-sized boat has to negotiate some pretty narrow channels, but the passengers do see hundreds of those islands, most of which are dotted with cottages. Islands of at least Canadian wildflowers one acre are registered with the Ontario government. An entire island goes for medium six figures (Canadian dollars), and an island plot with cottage for quite a bit less. People from T-O can drive up on a Friday afternoon, park their car, hop in their boat conveniently moored at one of many marinas, and tootle on over to their hideaway cottage. Irving Berlin used to spend summers on an island here. Most of the cottages are pretty small. The large island contains an Ojibway reservation.
Motor boats outnumber sailboats, for the simple reason that one can't reasonably sail through the narrow passages. There are some larger bays which are used for regattas, but for open water sailing the boater must get out into Georgian Bay. The area is enormously popular with those who take cruising holidays, as there is lots of interesting piloting among the islands, and plenty of safe harbors and fish restaurants on the islands. We saw one yacht from Annapolis, one from Florida, and of course many from the Great Lakes provinces and states. We also saw a small black bear on one of the islands (there's a sign at our motel to be careful of the neighborhood bear when walking at night) and a family of ospreys on their nest atop a pole in one channel.
We continue to enjoy the quiet beauty of the countryside which simply presents itself to its observers without fanfare.