Skip to content

Then & Now: This is the downtown corner where Sudbury as we know it was born, but you wouldn’t know it

Downtown takes a lot of criticism, but stand on nearly any corner in the heart of Sudbury and you are surrounded by the Nickel City’s rich history — and it’s about time we celebrate our storied past before it’s forgotten

There is no fancy heritage sign to announce the northwest corner of Elm and Elgin is where the story of Sudbury begins but there should be.

Part of our city's history can be told by just standing at this corner and looking around.

CPR rail crews blasted through rock and began building tracks along what would become Elgin Street in 1883. 

Ten years later, Sudbury had become a thriving lumber and mining centre. In April 1892, 100 businessmen met at McCormick's Hall at 80 Elm* to sign a petition asking the province to incorporate Sudbury as a town.

The Globe and Mail predicted the Town of Sudbury was destined to become the "Denver of Canada." 

The first town council meeting was held Jan.16, 1893, at McCormick's Hall and presided over by Stephen Fournier, the first mayor, and nine councillors. All had been acclaimed to office.

McCormick's Hall was demolished around 1915 and the town offices moved to a new municipal building at Elgin and Beech, which also housed the fire hall, the police station and a jail. 

Later, city hall moved to 83 Cedar St., a handsome three-storey brick building originally built for Bell Canada. The building was purchased by the city in 1939 and served as city hall for 35 years before Tom Davies Square was built.

McCormick's Hall was replaced by the Sterling Bank building, a lovely example of Roman Baroque Rival architecture, in 1918. In 1928, Sterling Standard Bank merged with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, later the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).

When the CIBC branch closed in 1997, a men's clothing store moved into 80 Elm. The former bank building now houses a medical clinic, drug rehab centre and business offices.

The Nickel Range Hotel stood next door from 1914 to 1976. Shoppers Drug Mart was built on the site a few years ago.

The Nickel Range was a five-storey grand hotel with a ballroom on the second floor. American writer Ernest Hemingway stayed there in 1923. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were guests in 1939.

Sudbury's favourite son, Alex Trebek, recalled in his memoir that his father George, a Ukrainian immigrant, worked at the hotel as a pastry chef. The host of Jeopardy, who died in 2020, got his first job at the hotel helping out in the kitchen and working as a bellhop.

Across the street from 80 Elm, on the northeast corner of Elm and Elgin, is Balmoral Place, home to Sudbury Dental Group and the offices of the Northern Ontario Initiative for Social Action (NISA).

It's clock tower is a nod to the tower on the Balmoral Hotel which stood on this corner for 70 years.

One of Sudbury's earliest landmarks, the hotel was demolished in 1957 and replaced with Zeller's department store, which later moved into the downtown mall.

Directly across from 80 Elm, on the southwest corner of Elm and Elgin, is the former CP Telegraph Ticket building. 

Built in a popular style for public buildings at the beginning of the 20th century, Edwardian Classicism, the building has been lovingly restored and is now part of the McEwen School of Architecture (85 Elm).

According to a 2012 brief by the municipal heritage advisory panel, "The (telegraph) building has simple balanced design, straight roof lines, uncomplicated ornament and relatively maintenance-free detailing. Edwardian buildings are noted for their smooth brick faces and abundance of windows."

The telegraph office was built in 1914 and an expansion added in 1930. At this time, the telegraph office moved to the new addition and the ground floor. Part of the building was used as an office for the city treasurer. The Sudbury Public Library was located on the second floor in the 1930s.

In 1949, CPR's freight offices moved into the building.

The last telegram sent from the telegraph office went out on March 31, 1980.

The city purchased the building in 1999 before it was given a new life as part of the architecture school.

From 80 Elm, look across the street to 73 Elm, the former Baikie Building. Recent owners have recreated its original graceful exterior.

Dan Baikie opened a book store on main street in 1891. The prominent businessman was one of the "Old Boys" who helped shape the young community. He was a member of numerous civic boards including the public school board.

Frank Muirhead purchased the book and stationary store in 1915 and changed the name to Muirheads. His son, Bill, sold it to Alan Querney in 1972.

Querney, who died in March 2021 at the age 91, and sons Tom, Bill and John, operated Muirheads until May 2005 when the business was sold to Grand & Toy.

The Querney family has always been civic-minded, serving on many boards and committees, as well as supporting numerous good causes.

In 2010, John and Bill Querney started another office supply business, Querney Office Plus, next door the Baikie/Muirheads building in the former Silverman's department store at 67 Elm.

Many people will remember the United Cigar Store on the corner of Elm and Durham. If the modern facade was removed from the brick building, a chiselled sign that says Frawley Block would be revealed.

The Frawleys were Irish Catholics who came from Quebec. Business owner Patrick Frawley had a general store on this corner before building a more prestigious edifice. Destroyed by fire, the block was rebuilt in 1926.

His brother, John, another "Old Boy" had an outfitter's store down the street on Durham and is considered one of Sudbury's first merchants. He arrived in Sudbury in 1884 and sold goods from a tent.

Both Frawley brothers were also mining prospectors.

The regal old post office stood across from Frawley Block from 1915 to 1959. It was replaced by an impressive multi-storey office building and Woolworth's store. It is now a parking lot.

Directly across the street is the Mackey Building at 56 Elm. Records On Wheels, a very popular record shop, was located in this building for 20 years, and at one time some of the city's most prominent lawyers had offices there. The current tenants on the main level are a pizza parlour and a payday loan agency.

The five-storey building was built in 1926 for John J.Mackey, president of the Copper Cliff Sudburian Railway. He was one of the founders of the Sudbury Brewing and Malting Company which would become Doran's and then Northern Brewery.

The Mackey Building, once the tallest in Sudbury, was designed by architect P.J. O'Gorman, who also designed the Frawley Block, and many public buildings, schools and churches in northeastern Ontario prior to his retirement in 1961.

Heritage buildings add character and charm to the community. Learning about them helps citizens understand and appreciate our history. While it is necessary for politicians and bureaucrats to plan for the future, it is worth the time and money protecting what is already here, and respecting what once was. 

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer and former editor of Northern Life and Sudbury Living magazine. Then and Now is made possible by our Community Leaders Program. 

*80 Elm St. was previously 2 Elm West.

Sources

Sudbury Rail Town to Regional Capital, edited by C.M. Wallace and Ashley Thomson, Dundurn Press, 1993
Inventory and Guide to Historic Buildings in Sudbury, Michael A. Gorrie, Brenda Kelly, Michael C. Kelly, Cindy Mullally, Carmen Prevost, Patti Ann Trainor, September 1978