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Memory Lane: Share your memories of Creighton Mine, a once-vibrant company town bulldozed in '80s

Saying it couldn't afford the costs, Inco Ltd. razed what was left of the Walden-area community in the late 1980s

Only memories, memorabilia and photographs remain of Creighton Mine, a once-vibrant company town bulldozed in the late 1980s when its landlord, Inco Ltd., decided it could no longer afford to be in the real estate business.

"You can almost hear footsteps walking across the grave of this small northern Ontario mining town," freelance reporter Don Umpherson wrote in The Toronto Star, March 10, 1986, shortly after residents were given notice their community would be wiped off the map by the end of 1988.

Proud Creightonites have held annual reunions since 1989, although plans for 2020 and 2021 were cancelled because of COVID-19. invites former Creighton residents to share their fond memories and photos of their community for the Sept. 14 Memory Lane article.

Creighton Mine, located about 20 kilometres west of Sudbury, was the last company-owned town in Ontario.

The town was established by the Canadian Copper Company, the forerunner of Inco, to accommodate miners who worked at Creighton Mine, the deepest nickel mine in Canada and one of the most profitable. 

Open pit mining began in 1901. By 1906, when underground mining began, an estimated 900 miners were living in Creighton housed in log buildings lit by oil lamps. 

As Creighton grew, Inco built boarding houses, apartment buildings and single-family homes that were rented to employees. Rent and utility fees were deducted from miners' paycheques.

There were grocery stores, restaurants, clothes stores, churches, schools, a post office and a movie theatre as well as legendary baseball and hockey teams and a police force.

By the late 1940s, the town's population of about 2,200 started to dwindle as miners were able to commute from Sudbury and other nearby communities.

In 1986, Inco announced it had become too expensive to maintain the community. Upgrading the town's water, sewer and road systems to modern standards would cost the company more than $10 million.

"Housing was costing us a lot of money at the time,” property management superintendent Don Taylor told the Inco Triangle in September 1988.

“We were incurring annual net loss of about $750,000 as well as charges that we were keeping land from the public. 

"In short," said Taylor, "we're into nickel, not real estate." 

From the mid-1970s, Inco began acquiring homes as they became available, reducing the number from 400 to 244 by 1986. 

Inco sent out a notice in February 1986 to the remaining residents that it intended to terminate all leases by June 9, 1988. 

Tenants who rented from Inco were told they could have their house free of charge if they paid to have the structure moved off Inco's property.

People owning homes on company property were offered market value. Inco offered to subsidize the cost to remove their houses. 

All buildings, including the churches and schools, which held so many memories, were eventually demolished.

In 1989, at the first Creighton Mine Reunion, Creightonites unveiled a memorial at the entrance to the former town.  

The memorial plaque says, "Dedicated to the people of Creighton Mine who formed this community of love, labour and loyalty amongst these rocky hills."

Bud Cullen, a cabinet minister in Pierre Trudeau's government, was born in Creighton. 

The community of Lively was named for Creighton resident and mine employee, Charlie Lively.

Other Creightonites include retired Steelworkers International president Leo Gerard, contributor Erna Fex and the late Tom Davies, former regional chair of Sudbury.

"Creighton Mine was more than a collection of buildings," Davies wrote in the forward to the book, "There Were No Strangers, a history of the Village of Creighton Mine," published in 1989.

"True many stories are associated with the physical structures and facilities...the head frame, Carlo's and Fievoli's stores, Gonnella's Bakery, Celestini's, Kelly's, Johnson's, the United Church, St. Michael's Church, Tony Aiello's Barbershop, McGill's Drugstore, Alemany's, the pool room, the community hall, Meatbird Lake, the baseball field, the employees' club, the Vermilion River. But it is the people who we will remember most: unique people who pursued a unique way of life."

Send your memories about the community of Creighton Mine to [email protected] or [email protected]

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.