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Memory Lane: From predicting your height to the trading post, Science North is written on our brains

Sudbury.com readers share their memories of Science North for our latest Memory Lane feature
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Craig Miron took this photograph in 1982 when the building was under construction.

The renowned Canadian architect who designed Science North's unique structures on Ramsey Lake was not thinking about snowflakes. Speaking in November 2013 as part of the McEwen School of Architecture's lecture series, Raymond Moriyama said the six-sided concept was inspired by geology.

“I had a miner’s axe and started to work on the rocks and every time I struck hard rock, it came out in a hexagon pattern. (But) when I began to work on the first sketch, people said, ‘That’s a snowflake.’"

His firm worked with Sudbury architects Townend, Stefura, Baleshta and Nicholls on the $28-million project, which includes two snowflake-shaped buildings. 

The first blast to begin excavation took place in June 1981. Science North opened to the public in June 1984. In October of that year, Queen Elizabeth II attended the official opening.

Moriyama, who also designed the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, said he wanted to design a building that would give citizens confidence in their community at a time when there was an unprecedented high unemployment rate.

“I wanted to put Sudbury on the map,” he said.

Moriyama & Teshima Architects and Townend, Stefura, Baleshta & Nicholls Architects were awarded the Governor General's Medal for Architecture by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 1986.

Sudbury.com asked readers to share their memories of Science North for the Memory Lane feature.

Diana Holloway commented on the iconic "snowflake" architecture. 

"The design and construction was amazing, and as time went on, it became a go-to place for family or visiting friends and relatives for a fun and educational experience.

"The restaurant overlooked Ramsey Lake; the food was representative of fine cuisine and delightfully scrumptious. Sudbury had arrived with a fine-dining restaurant  accompanied with a scenic ambiance to take our  visitors, business partners or associates for a special occasion. It was a way to show off the North."

Craig Miron shared a photograph he took in 1982 when the building was under construction. 

"I was 18 when Science North was being built. One morning, I was driving north on Regent heading toward the old Memorial Hospital site. It was foggy that morning and (I got) to the science centre at the exact time the sun was rising. At this time, it was only a steel structure but it looked like it was floating in the sky. 

“The forecast was the same weather the next day. I woke up early and headed down to the edge of Lily Creek and caught this image. The next morning, I went out again, but they had started installing outside panels. Think I got lucky on this one."

Retired history professor and author Dieter Buse shared, "(My wife) Judith remembers the original 3D movie with underwater images of beavers' webbed paws coming apart to swim.

"The grandsons figured out how to get lots on the point system to trade (at the trading post) for the rocks and skeletons they wanted. They had their parents, who worked at the Sault forestry lab, give them unused insects and other specimens. We even hauled in a moose [skull], not completely cleaned. The staff did not really want it, but admitted the boys deserved many points."

Erik Allan Frantila shared, "I remember when it first opened. A friend of mine had a membership. Let’s say I spent a lot of time with him. My sister got married in the Cavern. I miss the laser lights show they put on at Christmas and I miss the lights."

Nature photographer Don Johnston has fond memories of a photo session in the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery. "It was hot and gruelling. I was on my knees a lot, but very enjoyable.The Bluecoat was a student of mine who promised to collect wings from dead specimens. I still have the box of wings."

Many remember taking the "test" at the science centre that estimated children's adult height.

Retired educator Judi Straughan certainly does. 

"We took my nieces, along with our three children. My husband had always told our middle son that he would someday be big enough to get back at his older brother for all the teasing he’d sustained. What did the height predictor at Science North say? That our shattered son would be less-than-average height and his older brother would be tall. He cried all the way to the car, as did my niece who found out she would also be severely vertically challenged. I’m happy to say my lovely niece is at least 5-6 and my middle son is well over six feet tall, clearly beating his older brother by several hairs. The predictor at Science North has been defunct for years, but the memories and tears linger on."

Former television personality Sharon Bowes was one of many who benefited from unique experiences because of their association or employment with Science North.

"In 1994, the IMAX theatre debuted with ‘The Dream is Alive’, an extraordinary film about NASA's space shuttle program. In preparation for the grand opening, a CTV crew and a team of science experts headed to the Kennedy Space Centre to produce a 10-part news series and documentary. We worked 12- to 14-hour days, talked to astronauts, shot from the Cape Canaveral launchpad, witnessed the launch of a Titan IV (rocket) and the return of the space shuttle Endeavour from Edwards Airforce Base – a career highlight to be sure. 

"We produced award-winning programming and some great memories. In a rare couple of hours of downtime, astronomer Andrew Yee and meteorologist Ron Bianchi and I were exploring the Cocoa Beach strip and happened upon a shop called Flirt. Curiosity drew us in the door just as the owner's pet pig was poised to make a great escape. The image of Andrew and Ron chasing that pig down North Atlantic Avenue will stay with me for the rest of my days." 

Sudbury.com associate content editor Heidi Ulrichsen shared her memories of Science North. "I'm from Copper Cliff and I grew up going to Science North. It opened when I was four years old, so there were many school field trips to the science centre, as well as trips there with my sister and friends at Christmas and March school breaks. I remember Ralph the porcupine, holding snakes and other creepy-crawlies, trading for interesting minerals and shells at the trading post, running up and down the ramps, the gyroscope, the bed of nails and more. It was exciting when the IMAX opened when I was in my teens. More recently, my sister and I have taken her five-year-old daughter to Science North many times, and she loves it just as much as we did."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. She is a former editor of Northern Life and Sudbury Living magazine, and has a special interest in local history. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.