Skip to content

Downtown Memories: The vanished buildings of historic Elm Street

Bruce Bell is back and continuing his tour of Elm Street and the historic buildings and businesses that once populated it, plus the time four-yera-old Bruce’s brother forgot him at the movies

On the northeast corner of Elm and Lorne streets once stood the famous Gardner Motors.  

When I was in Grade 2, my dad took me to see an experimental 1962 Chrysler turbine concept car that sat in the showroom windows of Gardner Motors. Engineers would start the engine every hour just to show everyone that yes, this may be experimental, but the vehicle works. 

Car buying back then was an event and I remember the Gardner Motors showroom windows being covered with newspaper until the introduction of the new models sometimes with the mayor in attendance. 

A very big deal indeed. 

I also remember huge Doric columns that supported a covered breezeway attached to the dealership. 

The ground floor also had the gas pumps (White Rose, I think), sales, service and administration with the mechanical shop in the basement level and the body and paint shop on the upper floor. 

Across from the former Gardner Motors at Lorne and Elm stood the President Hotel. 

Before the hotel opened in 1966, there was a furniture store that stood on the site but it burnt down.

I remember we used to drive by the site and see the remains covered in black, dirty ice lasting all winter.

The President was the first post-war hotel to open in downtown Sudbury, an opening that caused a real splash in the local press. 

The President had the lobby on its main floor and a winding staircase that lead downstairs to the coffee shop and the drinking taverns. 

I want to say that the two bars downstairs were some of the first in the city to no longer have separate ladies’ and gentlemen's entrances, which was the norm up until the 1960s. That said, there seemed to be an understanding back then as to which bars would serve single ladies.

Across from the hotel stood one of the most historic buildings in Sudbury, our first purpose built hospital. Even though I probably walked by it a hundred times, I never knew its heritage. 

By the time I started to explore downtown, the former hospital was a rooming house that had a convenience store on the ground floor, which I think was called Ramsey's. 

Even through I never knew the building’s past as a hospital, I was taken with its architecture, done in the French Empire style complete with the prominent Mansard windows in the attic, widely used in Paris, France. 

I always thought how lucky Sudbury was to have such a unique-looking building, but sadly it too is gone and another vast parking lot stands there today.

Down Elm towards the railway tracks that cut the street in half stood the grain silos of Edwards Grain with a grain and chicken feed store at its base. 

At the rail tracks on the south side stood for many years the Swift Jewel Shortening building, with its icon neon sign. Across the street on the north side stood a fantastic little takeout restaurant (the name of which escapes me), but it was the first time I ever heard the term ‘greasy spoon’ to describe a quick in and out lunch counter restaurant.  

On the corner of Frood and Elm stood — and still stands — one of Sudbury's most distinctive buildings, the former Board of Trade with its rounded corner facade. The Levert offices are there today. I’ll always remember the giant globe of the earth spinning slowly in the window. 

Across Frood stood the former Sudbury Star building. 

The Sudbury Star began as a daily in January 1909 named the Northern Daily Star, and later with acquisition of the North Bay Nugget, it moved into its new building at Elm and Frood.

By 1935, the owners of the Star founded CKSO, Sudbury's first radio station, and its newspaper building on Elm became a busy place for people coming and going. 

When I was four years old in 1958, my older brother, John, took me to the Empire Theatre to see a Jerry Lewis movie, “Rock-A-Bye Baby”.

After the movie, we got separated and when he got home our mom said to him, "Where's Bruce?" It seems John made his way home thinking I was right behind him the whole time. 

I was lost in the big bustling city, but I did have the wherewithal to head to the Sudbury Star office because I was familiar with it as we got the paper delivered. 

I remember opening the big wooden doors and climbing the few steps into the lively newsroom filled with people, typewriters, and lots of cigarette smoke. 

I sat down on a wooden bench until a kind lady came up to me and asked what I was doing here.

I told her I was lost and she immediately sprang into action and called the police who in turn called my worried mom. It was all very exciting and I was never scared as I loved being the centre of attention. 

The old Star building on Elm was demolished to build the Odeon Theatre that sadly only lasted less than 25 years. 

I remember when the two theatres of the Odeon opened in 1969, with 'Anne of a Thousand Days' starring Richard Burton and Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold.

That night was a really big deal with full-page ads and a glittering opening night shindig. 

Next door to the Sudbury Star was a slim, white four-storey building that was home to the American Raw Fur Company. The building always reminded me of one of those buildings you'd see on the canals of Amsterdam. 

In the swingin' ’60s I remember this building was sort of a squatters paradise filled with half-baked teenagers, the smell of cannabis wafting through the rooms and the occasional naked hippy running up and down the hallways.

There was alot of that going on in Sudbury in the 1960s.  

Next to that place and its peccadillos was the famous Nickel Range Hotel, the one building I wish was still standing in Sudbury.

This magnificent hotel was a cornerstone for downtown Sudbury and defined our city with its name alone. 

In the 1960s newer and flashier hotels were being built out in the suburbs and with that shift came the death knell for our beloved Nickel Range and ultimately the once vibrant downtown core.

Since 2020, former Sudbury resident Bruce Bell has written a series of columns for Sudbury.com, sharing his memories of downtown Sudbury in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back in April, he began a virtually walking tour of Elm Street back in its hey day. You can read that here. In June, he continued his tour. You can read that here. For more of his tales, type “Bruce Bell” into the search bar at Sudbury.com.