I met a few of my high school friends for drinks the other night. It was your typical collection of Sudbury twenty-somethings, half who had gone to Laurentian for university, the other half who, like me, had found themselves back in town accidentally, after swearing never to return. That’s what Sudbury is like, apparently. Like the Hotel California. Have I mentioned I’ve given in and am getting a 705 number again?
Anyways, one of these friends was lamenting over the fact that he’s now stuck back in Sudbury, a place he no longer considers his home after four years spent in Canada’s largest city. Full disclosure before I continue: I’m not exactly Suzie Sudbury myself. In fact, there are a whole handful of cities in which I’d rather be, namely Ottawa, the geographical love of my life. But I am not there, I am here. This is the point I tried to press with this one friend…that you might as well appreciate Sudbury for its positives, rather than dwell on the negatives. I don’t think I convinced him, but the beer made me more and more ambivalent, so I stopped.
The night tugged on a familiar thread with me, and I was reminded of my endless summer thoughts surrounding this former place of high school dwelling that has suddenly become my home again. Over the past five months, I’ve come to peace with my decision to move back to northern Ontario. It’s a peace secured around the idea that you can’t take the city too seriously, that you have to embrace the imperfections, shake your head and say, “oh that? Not again.” I’m not saying that you can’t try to change the city for the better – you certainly can, and there are several groups and individuals who are doing just that. Sudbury has a burgeoning art scene, and some food-related projects that have the potential to really take off. Beautiful hiking trails and stunning vistas are just a short drive away, and in the summer you can pretty much walk half a kilometre in any direction and encounter a lake.
Since one of my favourite features of cities are its neighbourhoods, I set out to visit an unexplored Sudbury one. Well-defined, personality-filled neighbourhoods are the exception rather than the norm here, and most inter-city regions are based solely around where the newest housing division has been built. Sudbury’s roads are not grid-based in any way (in fact, they’re quite the opposite, weaving around rocks and parallel to twisting train tracks), which also contributes to the blurring/difficulty in cordoning off neighbourhoods.
Perhaps the most notorious of these few true “neighbourhoods” is The Donovan - the network of streets flowing off Kathleen Avenue, nestled just north of the CBC newsroom downtown.
I’d only ever driven through The Donovan once, near dusk. It’s unusual to discover new parts of a city you’ve lived in for so long, and it seemed as though I was in a different town all together. If someone had blindfolded me and spun me around I likely would have ended up being hit by a train.
I didn’t know much about The Donovan, except that it is known as being the “rougher” area of town. I decided against venturing at night, and instead walked over on a crisp fall morning after buying too many cranberries at the downtown farmer’s market.
Some scenes from that walk:
After The Donovan, I wandered down a Rainbow Routes trail by Frood Road, taking numerous detours along the train tracks as though I were a soul-searching preteen in a 1980′s flick. I’ve been very drawn to the railway tracks since moving back to town (although that’s not saying much since they’re everywhere, slicing through the landscape and creating their own nature paths). I like to think that you’re not a true Sudbury resident until you know alternate routes around the tracks, should a train ever be obscuring your journey.
During my walk I took some artsy nature photos. They’re desktop background worthy, I think.
I was also very close to climbing this giant railroad bridge that crosses above Frood Road and Beatty Street. It has always reminded me of a logging corridor or the flat of some Lumberjack water ride.
Just as I was about to start climbing the steep embankment up towards the bridge, a train whistle rang out, and I chose to take that as a sign that I would probably die if I went any further. I wandered back downtown and snapped a few shots along the way.
And so, to conclude my mini-preach speech about the city:
Being in Sudbury is about splashing in the rain-filled potholes rather than grumbling at them. It’s about watching slag being poured from a vantage spot in your brother’s bedroom, pointing at the Big Nickel from your back deck, and seeing the smokestack just about everywhere else.
Being in Sudbury is not about laughing at the city, it’s about laughing with it.
PS: sometimes I think my best feature is my inability to obey “no trespassing” signs – is that bad?