Finding Sudbury’s past in Ottawa’s present

A pleasant surprise awaited me at the Ottawa Antique Show last weekend. I was back in town for a long-overdue visit with some good friends, one of whom (Christine) accompanied me to the antique show that was being held in the Fieldhouse at my beloved, former university, Carleton.

Entering the show, there were tonnes of great, one-of-a-kind (at least in 2013) finds, including ceramic busts of Mounties and daschunds, beautifully-beaded cardigans and blazers, and depression glass in a multitude of jelly bean colours.

Just one of my purchases from the day. You know I'm a sucker for all things paper craft-related
Just one of my purchases from the day. You know I’m a sucker for all things paper craft-related

Christine, always an expert on all things fashionable, vintage, and cool, strolled alongside, giving a fascinating history lesson at each table. I learned about how Vera Neumann, finding herself short of linen during World War Two, re-fashioned surplus parachute silk into her renowned, boldly-printed scarves. Christine also told me about her other favourite scarf brand: Echo, which was founded by Theresa and Edgar C. Hyman on their pre-depression era wedding day. Their site actually has a pretty cool historical walk-through, if you’re interested. I ended up buying an oblong Vera scarf, with a brightly coloured blue and grey pattern criss-crossing the silk. It reminded me of another scarf I already owned. Despite my new breadth of scarf knowledge, however, I still plan on wilfully committing the ultimate sacrilegious act. I wear not the scarves on my neck, but rather tie them around my waist, wrist and luggage in order to serve as belts, bracelets or identifiers in this otherwise far too monochromatic world. What kind of lady am I?

April 13, 2013-14

BUT right, I was supposed to be discussing how I got a little glimpse into Sudbury’s past while visiting an indoor recreation facility in Canada’s Capital. I do get sidetracked sometimes. When browsing the booths at the antique sale, I came across two whole tables of the most meticulously organized postcards. By meticulously organized, I mean they were sorted by each county in Ontario, by each province in the country, and by each country of the world (not to mention further categories classifying boy scout images, girl scout images, transportation (public), transportation (private), ETC). The images on each spanned decades, and every card was carefully contained in a thin plastic casing, as to not be destroyed by our modern, greasy little fingers. I awaited a spot at the  postcard drawers and, when it was my turn, darted towards the Sudbury section. Oh vey! Discovery abounds. Since moving back to town nearly a year ago, I’ve become fascinated with the history of this fine northern community, particularly its downtown core, which, in the most bleak of historical moves, has been reduced to a shade of its former glory. We were a mining boom town. The main stretch used to be alit with neon lights, people could stroll from department store to department store, perhaps stopping at one of the fabulous-looking hotels that are now a dental office and Shopper’s Drug Mart (the Balmoral Hotel which then became a Zellers, and the Nickel Range Hotel where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed, respectively).

Durham Street at Christmas, courtesy of a posting on the Sudbury's Fine 'Past & Future' Let's Reminisce Facebook page
Durham Street at Christmas, courtesy of a posting on the Sudbury’s Fine ‘Past & Future’ Let’s Reminisce Facebook page

Threads of inspiration and historical yearning were again tugged upon when I discovered the Facebook page, “Sudbury’s Fine ‘Past & Future’ Let’s Reminisce.” So great were the photos on that page that I tracked down the founder, Noella Church-Beaudoin, to interview for our morning show. Yes, I fully appreciate the irony of taking stock of a city’s past from the perch of one’s computer chair. (Coming back to this blog post now after spending an hour browsing the Sudbury library’s archives. Check it out! I particularly like the corner of Durham and Larch streets where I had never before appreciated that the SRO/Old Rock has maintained the magic of the former Eaton’s Department Store).

The Eaton's Building, circa 1930's. Courtesy of the City of Greater Sudbury Heritage Museums Collection
The Eaton building, circa 1930’s. Courtesy of the City of Greater Sudbury Heritage Museums Collection
CBC!!!!! The building still looks identical. Courtesy of the Main Branch of the Sudbury Library
CBC!!!!! Taken over a decade ago (1999), but the building still looks identical. Courtesy of the Main Branch of the Sudbury Library

SO, as I flipped through the yellowed images that sat in this antique show drawer in Ottawa (yes, we’re back to 2013 again), I was excited to find a few shots of downtown Sudbury, as well as of Bell Park (a central green spot near Ramsey Lake by my parent’s house). I even picked up a few shots of Creighton Mine and the Copper Cliff smelters because, what would a Sudbury postcard collection be without a few shots of smoke billowing out of concrete cigars?

My postcards (featuring a date stamp from 1936!). Click to see a bigger version.
My postcards (featuring a date stamp from 1936!). Click to see a bigger version.

I ended up buying seven of the cards, and would have bought them all, should they have not cost about $5 a piece. I am currently in the midst of framing them so that I can carry a portion of one of my hometowns around wherever I should go.

PS: I know this blog post will have only minimal significance to a select number of people. But come on, I can’t be the only one that has been fascinated by how development has eaten away at the history of a place. Right?

By the way, the rest of my weekend in Ottawa was just the absolute best.

A new (to me) Russian nesting dolls mural in the Glebe
A new (to me) Russian nesting dolls mural in the Glebe
Finally got to restock my coloured paper supply at the irreplaceable store, The Papery (this is now the background on my iPhone)
Finally got to restock my coloured paper supply at the irreplaceable store, The Papery (this is now the background on my iPhone)

As well as antique-ing and afternoon beer-ing with Christine, the two days brought about a fancy dinner with Ella at Play Food and Wine in the Market (beef tartar, tuna tataki, spicy lentil fritters, tender pork belly, WINE), brunch, gelato, canal walks and elbow balloon-popping (don’t ask) with my old roommate Freya, and a surprise, last-minute pho dinner and bunny play date with Iman. So much fun.

Freya and I in the Byward Market, halfway through beautiful spring walk
Freya and I in the Byward Market, halfway through a beautiful spring walk
Fred! One of Iman's darling bunnies, who doesn't love me half as much as he loves the yogurt drops I'm about to give him
Fred! One of Iman’s darling bunnies, who doesn’t love me half as much as he loves the yogurt drops I’m about to give him
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4 thoughts on “Finding Sudbury’s past in Ottawa’s present

  1. I love those postcards! There’s something romantic and magical about them. Whenever I visit Brocantes in France I love leafing though boxes of vintage postcards, all indexed by town to find my favourite landmarks and mourn some of the beautiful buildings that don’t exist any more. Some of the messages from the original senders are quite interesting too depending on the era. BTW, if you’ll be in Ottawa for the GGGS this year, stop by for some carrot cake!

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