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Bruce Bell is back and he’s taking us down to Durham on a Friday night in the late ’60s

Downtown Sudbury on Friday nights was a hopping place in the 1960s and 1970s, and Bruce Bell remembers it all

Sudbury’s landscape when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s was desolate at best. Nevertheless, there was a strange beauty to the barrenness of the black hills, however unnatural it may have seemed to an outsider.

Conversely, downtown Sudbury in the late 1960s was a very happening place.

It was filled with busy stores, restaurants, coffee houses, theatres, and most of all, people.

I was barely a teenager myself in the late 1960s, but I remember that time like it was yesterday, the music, the characters I met and, yes, the first joint I ever smoked.

One of my favourite things to do on a Friday night in the late 1960s was to take a walk along Durham Street, Sudbury's main drag.

Sudbury was always considered a safe city, so the idea of a 14-year-old going downtown alone wasn't a big deal — even it was the height of the hippy era when clothes made the man or, in my case, the boy.

At the time, my older brother, John, was in a very popular Sudbury band called the The Inferno 5+1, so he always had the latest clothes and because we were almost the same size, I would 'borrow' his clothes and head on downtown.

So there I was in paisley bellbottom pants with a black and white zig-zag shirt feeling ‘all that’ as I sat on the Donovan bus heading out for a Friday night adventure.

I always had the same route after the bus would let me off at Beech and Elgin where the old fire hall was. I'd walk by the Plaza and Empire Theatres to see what was playing, then head downstairs at Zellers at Elm and Elgin to check out the latest toys, then back out onto Elm Street and into the pool hall next door.

Pool halls seemed to be everywhere back then, and even through I never really played the game, I got a thrill that I was doing something dangerous just by being there.

Next to the pool hall was the Bright's wine store and while I was only 14 or 15, I remember going in there once and buying a bottle of white wine. I looked older and this was in the days before clerks were required to ask for ID. 

I drank it, got really sick and never had another drink for the next 10 years. What I always remember, too, was that above the wine store was the office of Peter Lush Real Estate.

After a quick visit to the dark side, I would head into Kresge's through their double set of wooden doors to check out the latest albums.

The Kresge's store on Elm had their record department located as soon as you entered the store right behind the cigarette stall.

From there, I would head into the Richmond Room, Kresge's cafeteria, to see if I had any friends sitting around.

From Kresge's, I would cross the street at the scramble intersection of Durham and Elm, and head into Woolworths and their record department.

Both Kresge's and Woolworth were great places to meet people as they both had sit down restaurants, as well as lunch counters.

Next the Woolworth Building on Durham was one of the first post-modern buildings in Canada; the TD Bank built in the International Style with tall floor-to-ceiling windows and white Carrara marble frontage with a spectacular staircase leading to the banking floor.

Sadly, it’s all gone, replaced with parking lots.

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

In the 1960s, pop star Petula Clark had an enormous hit record called 'I Know a Place' and the La Fiamma encompassed this hit with its bohemian flare.

"I know a place
Where we can go
At the door there's a man who will greet you
Then you go downstairs to some tables and chairs"

The restaurant situated in a dark basement served what I consider to this day to be the best pizza I've ever had.

The tables had checkered tablecloths, the candles were in wine bottles and the pizza was served to you on a raised plate with a can of sterno underneath (‘la fiamma’ being Italian for ‘the flame’) giving the whole experience a very trippy Italian feel.

It was the first trendy restaurant in Sudbury and was always full of hippies, business people, students, and on a Friday night, sometimes my parents and their friends (ugh). 

To this day whenever I bite into a slice of pizza, I am transported back 50 years to that dark basement.

Continuing along Durham, I would pass the Levine's Ladies Wear store that had a glamorous Hollywood-style spiral staircase that led up to the bridal department.

When I visited Sudbury last year, I was so happy to see that the staircase was still there in Respect is Burning.

Next to Levine's past Old City Hall Lane was Birks Jewelry where, at the back of the store, they had a special exhibit set up that I never missed.

The intriguing exhibit Birks had was a table setting with the latest china, cutlery and anything else that would go on high-end table setting.

This table setting, which changed at least once a month, regularly impressed me and was always a must see on my walks (I always liked shining things).

Birks was on the ground floor of the Coulson Hotel next door to the famous Murray's Restaurant.

To anyone who lived in Sudbury in the 1960s, Murray's was a mainstay eatery for all ages.

You would enter through a set of double doors framed in dark oak wood.

The restaurant faced Durham Street, had huge windows and began as a place where after a day of shopping, ladies of the day would head on in for a pot of tea and an apple dumpling.

The tea was always served in metal pots with white ceramic cups and saucers. A hostess would greet you and hand you a menu, then a uniformed waitress would take your order. When you were finished you would head up to the cashier and pay your bill.

Classy without being pretentious.

However, during the late 1960s all would change at our beloved Murray's. And everywhere else, for that matter, for the world itself was changing.

Stay tune for Part 2 next month: Hippies take over Durham Street!

Bruce Bell is a former Sudburian, now living in Toronto. He shared his memories of Christmas in downtown Sudbury back in the 1960s and 1970s back in December 2020. You can read that story here. In January, he reminisced about SS Kresge’s, which you can read here, while in February, Bell took a stroll through the old Sudbury Woolworth's location. In March, he took us on a tour through the old Zellers store and last month he led us on a wander through the old Nickel Range Hotel. In May, Bell brought readers on a wander through the historic Borgia Street neighbourhood.