Cycling in Urban Sudbury, ON

Sudbury Mural

Sudbury is a city in the near north of Ontario. The distance from Ottawa is around 500 km, similar to the distance Amsterdam – Paris. It is well known for its mining activities. We once spent one night there. Initially the plan was to stay at the campsite at that time, but once we figured out the campsite was sandwiched between two highways, and the prevailing sound was one of truckers’ air brakes, we decided to go to a motel instead. There was another campground north of Sudbury, but we never found it. This was before smart phones and before the OntheBike household had GPS figured out.

Dead mall down town

This time it was different. Karen had to go to meet colleagues of the local Arthritis Society and I tagged along for two days to check out the city. We stayed in a down town hotel attached to a near dead mall. As it was June, we brought our bikes so that we could do some cycling too. We have smartphones by now which came in very handy during the bike trips.

Large arterials sans cars.

Rachelle Niemela

When travelling, it is always a good idea to connect with local cycling advocates to share the passion of cycling, to get some route tips and often have a good time. So I connected with the Sudbury cycling advocates to share experiences. I met with Rachelle Niemela of the Sudbury Cycling Union at Salute Coffee on Elm Street, a local coffee shop, serving Pilot coffee: we talked extensively about cycling advocacy and compared notes on cycling progress in our respective cities. Rachel was so inspiring!

I found the access to the trail but it took a bit of searching.

The Donovan

In the evening I went for a bike ride with a small group of wonderful residents who showed me around on the bike. I got to see places I probably wouldn’t have ventured out to: areas that are so unfamiliar to me. They took me along a creek parallel to Notre Dame Ave going a bit north of the centre.

We cycled through an area called “the Donovan”. The Donovan area was settled by many Eastern European immigrants, mainly from Ukraine, Poland, Finland and the former republic of Yugoslavia. Each of these ethnic groups founded community halls in the Donovan, where one apparently went to drink bad beer. Some of the halls are still there as we noticed while cycling on Kathleen St. nothing beats a bike ride with locals who know the stories of the city.

After the ride I presented on Bike Ottawa’s advocacy efforts and then it was time for a meal in a local pub.

The trail follows a pathway in a south western direction.

Quiet downtown

I was taken aback by how quiet downtown is: there is almost no traffic. There is a very depressing optimistically called Rainbow Centre mall. I was surprised to see some really big, but really quiet arterials going through downtown. And of course there is mining, basically in people’s back yards. That may sound really depressing, and the very dark cloudy days and constant threat of drizzle turning into rain didn’t help, but I find places like Sudbury a lot more interesting to visit than say South Beach, FL. Mind, it was June!

Downtown Sudbury is very quiet at any time of the day.

UnDutch

But most of all, I was here to discover cycling in a city I was totally unfamiliar with. Sudbury is unDutch in every possible way. It is definitely a world –if I may call that- I am not familiar with at all, being from a flat country below sea level with mostly a clay soil in the west.

In advance, on Google Maps, I had tried to figure out a route that would get me somewhat out of town, avoiding the major arterials. I could not find any attractive loops on line so I decided to put one together myself by cobbling together a route along water, quiet residential roads and a bit of arterial here and there. With the rocky outcrops though, it is hard to judge how much time a loop would take but I figured I could always turn around.

The route I eventually rode as shown on Strava

Great Trail

Surprising to me, there was actually some bike and walk pathway infrastructure, mostly the part that is the Trans Canada Trail, now called the Great Trail (and now all the signs have to be replaced in Canada and that is not always happening so now tourists are confused what the difference between the two is).

A great initiative by Walk Sudbury: wayfinding!

I decided to follow the Great Trail (aka the Trans Canada Trail). It turned out that wasn’t as easy as I thought. Generally I found my way around, but I had to stop often and check where I was, as signs were sometimes in the oddest places. I followed mostly the pathway along Junction Creek, running  towards the south-west into Kelly Lake. A big help were the Walk Sudbury signs that show walking times and distances in several places.

A missing stretch in the The Great Trail is along Kelly Rd. But great views of the stack.
FindIng the Trans Canada trail signs is an art in its own right. (Hint: it is on that black temporary sign, top right, on the left in the photo).

Bear country

Getting to the trail was a bit of a challenge, but once I was on the stone dust trail, I was fine. Happily cycling along I realized that this might be bear country and all of a sudden I wasn’t that comfortable anymore. I started to see a bear behind every tree and waste bin. It is not like there are many cyclists out there that might keep bears away. I could imagine a headline: “Gullible Dutchman on bicycle eaten by bear on Sudbury creek pathway- no trace of brains”.

I noticed quite a bit of garbage in the creek. That is unfortunate.

Copper Cliff Pathway

The Junction Creek pathway eventually ends at a business area and you have to follow a busy, crummy Kelly Lake Rd, which appeared under construction. The Copper Cliff Pathway leads towards a separate residential area of Sudbury near the mines. The Copper Cliff pathway partly uses an old road and runs partly along Highway 55, but at least it is away from traffic.

The Copper Cliff pathway goes underneath a railway track. The post is clearly visible.
A new bridge crossing a creek. Don’t bike there in the dark though after a joint/beer/ both or two, you might just miss it and cycle straight into the water.
It looked fairly new, perhaps a regeneration project: a stretch of Copper Creek Pathway.
The pathway partly uses an abandoned roadbed. If you think Ottawa’s pathways could use some fresh paving….
The Copper Cliff pathway. This might need some permanent maintenance. I can see this eroding quite easily. But the path is a nice route to the small community of Copper Cliff and Little Italy, at the foot of the Superstack.

Sudbury Superstack

The whole purpose of the afternoon bike trip was to see the Sudbury Superstack as close as possible. Yes, that is a bit nerdy. My naive idea was to follow a road that looked like it leads around the Vale mining area to experience the full Sudbury experience, so I cut through Copper Cliff towards Godfrey Rd to circle around the mining area, including the tailing ponds.

At least, that was the plan but eventually the road was closed to cycling and I didn’t dare to go any further. What if I would be swooped up and thrown into a smelter? I took a few disappointing photos of the edge of the mining operations and turned back more or less the same route as there wasn’t an alternative. To get an idea of the smoke stack, you want to see the video made by Drone Malone.  Warning: don’t watch it on a big screen if you suffer from vertigo. The drone flies around and over the top of the stack.

No bicycles allowed. Being Dutch I cycled in anyway and see what was around the corner. I could always play the gullible Dutch guy with the inquiring mind.

Lonely cyclist

While Rachelle and her friends assured me there is a lot of cycling happening in and around Sudbury, it is mostly touring. Further west, the multi day ride on Manitoulin Island for example is a popular one. I didn’t see much day to day cycling in the city, and it really feels like you’re the city’s middle aged oddball. The only thing missing was a bag of pop cans on my handlebars. But no one bothered me either. I did cycle very defensively though and took my time. I think that helped.

Typical Sudbury landscape. Yes that is a mash up remix Peugeot with internal hub, more comfortable bars and brakes from Re-Cycles.

I genuinely had a good time in Sudbury. The locally brewed beer, aptly called Stack Brewery, helped. If you have to be in Sudbury, connect with the Sudbury Cycling Union. I am not sure if there is a bike rental place, but tack a day to your (business) trip and explore the city and its history. You’ll enjoy it.

Next time, I will write about our ride around Ramsey Lake in Sudbury.

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  1. Towards Ramsey Lake in Sudbury | Hans on the Bike

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