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You get the impression, driving north on #69 toward the Sudbury basin that you're wearing rose-coloured glasses. The highway is pink-tinged. Ancient rock of the Precambrian Shield bordering the highway is slashed with veins of startling pink quartz. Pink granite sparkles with huge chunks of rose and white quartz. If you're a rock hound, the temptation to stop and fill your trunk is overwhelming. It's worth a side-trip off Highway #69, to Killarney on the shores of Lake Huron, to see the stunning pink granite shoreline and white quartz hills.
The Shield is responsible for the unique physical features that mark Northern Georgian Bay. The existence of such a striking landscape was defined by the cataclysmic event that shaped the mineral rich-basin in which the City of Greater Sudbury lies. The most accepted theory is that a meteorite slammed into the area 1.85 billion years ago, shaping a bowl 37 miles long, 17 miles wide and 10 miles deep. In the aftermath, minerals bubbled to surface around the rim, creating one of the world's richest areas for nickel and copper sulfates. Copper was discovered by Tom Flanagan during railway construction in 1883. Mining and logging operations denuded hills of trees and vegetation, making a fascinating bleak, black rock landscape. The landscape was so like the moon's surface, that during the 1970's, astronauts practiced in the area, in preparation for their moon landing. Man-made underground features are as fascinating as those above-ground. There are more than 3,200 miles of tunnel or drifts as they are known in the mining industry, under the area. None are open to the general public.
Sudbury's landscape is dominated by a huge smoke stack, known locally as "The Big Smoke". It's presence indicates that mining is still an important industry that makes for a unique visitor experience. If you're in the right place, at the right time, there's nothing more spectacular than seeing one of the smelters doing a slag tip. "The Big Smoke" itself is worth a picture or two.
The area has so much to offer that it has expanded into a diverse and interesting visitor base. Regreening of the basin began in 1978. Stack emissions were reduced. Natural species of trees, bush and grass were reintroduced. In 1992, the Region of Sudbury was recognized by the United Nations for its land reclamation efforts. With amalgamation in Y2000, the City of Greater Sudbury was born and includes the towns of Capreol, Nichol Centre, Onaping Falls, Rayside-Belfour and Walden plus the Cities of Sudbury and Valley East. Northern Ontario's largest multi-cultural urban centre has more than 160,000 people and 219 lakes within its boundaries.
For three days over the first weekend in July, Sudbury rocks to the music of the Northern Lights Festival Boreal. Several enjoyable days can be spent at the popular event. The venue features more than thirty musical groups and at least one hundred performances. Northern Lights is held in beautiful Bell Park beside Ramsey Lake. Entertainment is continuous on various stages including an outdoor amphitheatre with a spectacular lakeside setting.
An Arts Village spawns all sorts visual and musical entertainments. Stilt-people strut their stuff. Magicians charm passersby. Folks with an artistic bent, paint canvases throughout the park. It's entrancing to watch a picture take shape while listening to distinctive Cajan, Celtic, Blues and Rock n Roll music. Crafter's Village sells unique items. The Family Area & Stage are always busy places, as is the hands-on Children's Activity and First Nations presentation area. The Workshop Stage is well attended as everyone gets into the spirit of the festival. Good food goes together with great music and there's plenty to eat on the grounds. Watch out for the friendly chipmunks!
From Bell Park, it's a short hike on the boardwalk that follows Ramsey Lake to Science North. Leave yourself at least a day to explore this hands-on treat. Science North's stunning buildings are patterned after snowflake designs. The main building is entered via a tunnel cut through shield rock. Inco Cavern Theatre, where 3D movies are shown, is carved from solid rock. IMAX Theatre provides spectacular entertainment. There are another four mini-theatres in the complex that do daily science presentations.
As the ramp spirals up four floors in the main building, you are treated to a glass wall that overlooks the lake, a shield rock formation incorporated into the complex and a huge whale skeleton suspended in mid-air. Each floor has special focus areas. Winged jewels surround you in the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery. Try your hand at maneuvering a Canadian space arm in the Astrophere. Workshops throughout the day are for all age groups.
You don't have to leave Science North to eat. There is a good restaurant and cafeteria on-site, along with Gift Shop, Special Exhibit Hall and Snack Bar. Neither do you have to go far to catch a ride on the Cortina, a 70 seat cruise boat that gives a one-hour tour of Ramsey Lake, the largest fresh water lake within a Canadian city limits. The cruise reveals a large number of float planes tied at private docks. Yes indeed, this is northern Ontario. Don't forget to visit the famous Sudbury Big Nickel, temporarily located on the grounds of Science North. You've got to see it to believe it. I dare you to put this coin in your pocket!
Because the Sudbury basin is all about rocks, a geological excursion is a must. Local tourism officials have an excellent pamphlet that details both walking and driving tours. Unique geological formations are well marked along Highway #144 north of the city toward Hearst. Stop at the A.Y. Jackson Welcome Centre and hike to one of their scenic lookouts for a view of High Falls on the Onaping River. It is hard to describe the spectacular scene as water tumbles in three steps, 150 feet down the rim into the basin, over rocks that are at least 2.5 billion years old. This was a favourite location for famous Canadian painter A.Y. Jackson who took brushes in hand to paint the Onaping River. A display of mineral-rich rock including Quartzite, Granophyre, Norite and Granite is located on the Centre's grounds. For a different view of the falls and river, physically fit people can hike from the Centre to the top of the rim.
Eco-tourism thrives in the area. Companies such as Sundog Outfitters offer canoe trips, overnight camping, hiking, weekend workshops and sustainable living projects. Owners Jim and Jennie, with their faithful dog Haggis, operate a four-seasons business and tailor outdoor experiences to their customer's wishes.
Trains played an important part in Sudbury's history as rails were the only link to some of the more remote communities. Northern Ontario Railroad Museum & Heritage Centre in Capreol strives to keep railway and local history alive. The drive to Capreol is interesting as it encompasses the flat mid-basin farmland, and passes through a number of small communities where the language spoken might be French or Finnish as much as English. If you enjoy riding the rails, catch the Budd Train from Sudbury to White River. This train is the epitome of the north. It stops for hunters at the side of the tracks, leaves packages off at designated points, drops canoeists and gear off at remote locations. The ride is particularly beautiful at the height of the fall foliage season.
Summer in Greater Sudbury is filled with all sorts of special events including Pow Wows and food festivals. Acidic soil provides some of the best blueberry picking in the north. Drop in at The Caruso Club, the largest Italian Club in Ontario, to check out their annual Festival that is held on the same weekend as Northern Lights event. The Club offers wonderful pasta buffets, great music and a fun Saturday night Variety Show. While on the subject of food, check out the Golden Grain Bakery on Brady Street. Go early in the morning for fantastic fresh bread, muffins and sweet breads. The last stop before we left Sudbury was at Golden Grain for a half dozen loaves of bread and cinnamon- raisin Danish. The smell drove us crazy all the way home. The Danish didn't make ten miles down #69. Try Granny's Café at the corner of Kingsway and Second Street for a reasonably priced bacon & eggs breakfast.
While driving in the north, watch for unique Inuit rock sculptures called Inukshuk. Inukshuk point the way up #69, down #144 and along #17, the Trans Canada Highway. Enterprising local folk and visitors have built their own sculpture, a lasting reminder to others to travel the route to a great vacation destination.
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