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Downtown memories: A Christmas stroll down Durham during downtown Sudbury’s heyday

Bruce Bell recycles and expands a column he wrote a year ago about his reminiscences of the downtown core in the late ’60s and early ’70s
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Sudbury’s downtown core was a hopping place at any time in the 1960s and early 1970s, but it was even more so at Christmas. Here is Durham Street brightly lit for the holidays.

The first memory I have of Christmas growing up in Sudbury was back in 1958 and my dad, who worked out at Creighton, had just come off an infamous 62-day Inco strike.

It was a hard strike with half the city out of work and consequently the other half also suffering as a result.

I was only four years old at the time, but that Christmas is burned in my memory, not because the cupboards were bare, but because to this day I remember it as the best Christmas ever.

I remember it well as my mom had won a turkey in a CKSO radio contest and my dad built me a toy replica of the White Rose gas station that stood at the end of our street in the West End.

We lived on Ethelbert Street and I have vivid memories of playing street hockey with my brother under the warm glow of the street lamps as the neighbours gathered in our apartment to share what goodies we all had. 

Eventually, we moved to Northern Heights, just north of the Donovan, and by the time of my teenage years I was allowed to head downtown unaccompanied. 

I loved going downtown anytime of the year, but the best time was at Christmas. 

In the late 1960s and early ’70s Christmas in downtown Sudbury was an exciting and vibrant place.

It wasn't just a destination to do a bit of shopping; it was for those of us coming into our teenage years the place to hangout, to be seen, and of course to shop.  

Before the City Centre opened and before the New Sudbury Shopping Centre expanded, the downtown core was a very thrilling place to be, especially at Christmas. 

Restaurants were packed, stores were filled, the streets were crowded and I also remember huge snow banks lining Durham Street. 

In all the years I lived in Sudbury, every winter had an abundance of snow, starting usually early November and lasting all the way until April. 

I now live in downtown Toronto and a white Christmas is a very rare event, I can count on one hand the number of white Christmases we've had in the last 50 years. 

I loved being a kid in Sudbury and as I got older, I treasured coming downtown on my own.

Coming in from the north end, I always had the same downtown walking route as I stepped off the Donovan bus at the corner of Beech and Elgin.

First thing I did was make a beeline for Prom Music to see what new records were in stock, then walk past the Plaza and Empire theatres to see what was playing, then to Elm and Elgin and the Zellers store downstairs to check out the toy and pet department.

After Zellers I would head into the SS Kresge store a few doors down Elm, where I would see if anyone I knew was in the Richmond Room cafeteria, then over to Woolworths crossing the zig-zag crosswalk at Elm and Durham underneath the giant Santa that hung over the corner.

This iconic Santa dominated the downtown core, and from the moment they started to raise it up over the intersection, you knew that Christmas had officially arrived.  

Across from Woolworths was the United Cigar Store, where not only could one get the latest Time magazine, but even a copy of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, very hip for late 1960s Sudbury.

Durham Street was always the busiest street in downtown Sudbury and the most decorated at Christmas. 

Tuesday night was always my favourite night to go out at Christmas time, as INCO employees got paid on Tuesdays so the stores stayed open late til 9 p.m. (consequently on Wednesdays the stores closed at noon). 

From Woolworths, I would head over to the legendary La Fiamma Pizzeria on Durham just past Cedar Street.

The restaurant situated in a dark basement served the best pizza, which, to this day, is the best I've ever had.

I always remember having to kick the ice from my boots so as not to slip on the stairs. 

From there, I would head into Murray's Restaurant in the Coulson Hotel, as I was always guaranteed to run into someone I knew for a quick catch-up. 

Then from there into Eaton's across the street and downstairs, as they always had the coolest stuff with trinkets and home decor.

One Christmas, I got a job with the Salvation Army to ring the bells and collect money in the red kettles outside the old Eaton's Store.

I’ll always remember standing on Durham Street, ringing those silver bells as the snow was falling and with all those people coming and going. It was, in retrospect, right out of the Christmas classic “A Miracle on 34th Street”. 

Across from Eaton's was Richmond Furs, and I remember every Christmas they would display the latest in fur coats and in 1969 I recall a full length chinchilla coat in the window at then the astronomical price of $18,000 (that’s nearly $130,000 in 2021).

Durham Street at Christmas had lights crisscrossing the street with illuminated angels and stars high above. 

All the store windows along Durham had some sort of Christmas display and with the lights ablaze and with shoppers hurrying along, you couldn't help but feel the buzz that was Christmas.

I always ended my evening with a visit to Wolfe’s Bookstore at the apex of Durham and Elgin and a visit with my best pal, Miriam Moses, who worked on the second floor.

Her dad was the eponymous Wolfe Moses, who owned the store, and with our mutual love of art, theatre and history filling the store, it seemed it was all catered just for me.    

After Wolfe’s I would board the bus back home, but not before I stepped into D&D Hobby Shop on Cedar Street, where downstairs waited the greatest most exciting creation known to man (or at least a 14-year-old boy): a model train set complete with mountains, a lake, trees, homes, stores and a replica 1956 Canadian Pacific train. 

Across from D&D was the Manhattan Restaurant, a stunning art deco eatery that would not feel out of place in New York City. 

I came to know this great restaurant during the last year of its life before it was remodeled into the Trevi Restaurant, an equally enjoyable bistro. 

I always remember one Christmas I joined the choir at All Peoples United Church on Jean Street and one snowy night after a rehearsal we all headed down to the Trevi for “the best meatball sandwiches in the North,” or so it was proclaimed.

It really is the little things in life that can stay with you forever. 

When I think of Christmases past especially during these trying times, I think back to growing up in Sudbury and taking my jaunts downtown with its lights, its people, its stores and all the excitement this season could offer. 

For the past year, former Sudbury resident Bruce Bell has written a series of columns for, sharing his memories of downtown Sudbury in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bell’s reminiscences include Christmas in downtown Sudbury back in the 1960s and 1970s published in December, 2020. You can read that story here. He mines his brain for more downtown Christmas memories for his latest column.


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