Sudbury: The Armpit of Ontario

A brief musical history of my hometown in Northern Canada

Photo by We Live Up Here

A couple days ago, I stumbled on this article about up-and-coming band Casper Skulls. I was pretty stoked since I’ve known a couple of them for years, watching them grow into the musicians they are today. I was disappointed to see that the writer chose to paint a negative picture of Sudbury, one that his former roommate planted into his mind about Sudbury being the armpit of Ontario.

I don’t mean for this to be a tear-down of the article or an attack on the writer. That’s not my style. My intention is to show off the beautiful city I grew up in to the rest of the world—the wonderful people who live there, our multi-faceted arts community, and our musical roots hidden beneath the lunar soil.

Protest The Hero in Sudbury. Photo by Andrew Blair.

More than Stompin’ Tom

At its core, Sudbury is a mining town. It’s small, far from major cities, and has no shortage of tailgate parties. Lots of hunting, fishing, and good old outdoor fun. It’s also worked hard to evolve beyond that identity.

When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Sudbury is also an artistic community, and that it’s well-positioned for creating music: beautiful nature, long winters, and a little boredom. The frustration of being in a remote community shapes you. Thanks to Sudbury, myself and many others have harnessed this and used it to create culture within and outside of the city.

Sudbury’s contributed to the Canadian musical landscape with hardcore/punk bands like Strange Attractor, Mick Futures, Statues, Vicious Cycle, Ultra Violence Ray; indie and folk acts like Lightmares, Meadowlark Five, Pistol George Warren, Ox, and many more. There’s also noise rockers Varge! and black metal act Wolven Ancestry who both left their marks in their own respective genres.

There’s even a book called Songs from Nowhere that focuses on the all-ages punk scene in Sudbury between the years of 2003–2010 written by my friend Nico Taus.

Songs from Nowhere trailer

Although the all ages music scene isn’t as active as it used to be, many of us spent our formative years in venues like The Jubilee Centre and Millard’s Garage. How sweet is it that you can see bands like Fucked Up, La Dispute, and Sharks in a tiny 40-capacity garage?

Sudbury is home to one of Canada’s staple live music venues—The Townehouse Tavern. It’s there that I was first exposed to bands like The Unicorns, the Constantines, and Julie Doiron. Legend has it that Nickelback signed their first big deal at the bar, but we aren’t usually trying to draw attention to that…

There’s also an independent record shop, Cosmic Dave’s that stocks all the best records, old and new, and once in a while opens its doors to host a show in their basement.

And there’s more… tourism, education, dining, etc.

We’re just a short drive from Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. If you’re ever driving through, you should definitely check out our side of Lake Huron and some of the awesome trails out there.

Sudbury’s also home to Canada’s newest School of Architecture, and many other post-secondary institutions. Not to mention many art galleries, restaurants, cafés, theatre, symphonies, and great tourist attractions—far from the desolate and desperate city described in the Noisey article.

Stompin’ Tom statue. Photo by Martha Dillman/CBC.

Sure, we’ve produced a lot of hockey players and even more nickel, and yes, we do have a Stompin’ Tom statue. But there’s a lot more to Sudbury once you explore and get to know the community.

Let’s go back to Sudbury’s roots…

CANO

Back in the 70s, prog rock band CANO were formed in Sudbury. They were the most popular and internationally successful musical group in Franco-Ontarian history.

CANO also had a National Film Board documentary created about them. They were involved in the creation of two music festivals in Sudbury, the Northern Lights Festival Boréal (longest running outdoor fest in Canada) and La Nuit sur l’étang. Both festivals continue to operate today and are have been very successful, and have inspired other celebrations of art and music.

Scenes from River and Sky

The New Festivals

In recent years, festivals like River and Sky and Up Here have cropped up and begun a new arts movement in the city. These festivals have hosted acts like Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Red, Black Mountain, Holy Fuck, and many more thanks to countless people who put their sweat and tears into building the arts community (in both official languages!).

We Live Up Here art projects

Thousands of people turn up for these celebrations of art, music, and culture. Maybe that momentum is why international cultural organization Musagetes chose Sudbury as one of a handful of cities to explore back in 2011.

Scenes from Up Here Festival

To see Sudbury embrace its history and culture, and come together as one in recent years is a special thing to experience, and you should definitely witness it yourself.

So please, dear Noisey writer, I recommend you come visit in the summertime. The community would love to show you around our little armpit. #weliveuphere 💪

This is by no means a comprehensive list, just my experience of the city when I lived there.

— 
Frank is a former Sudburian now living in LA. His old band broke up and now they’re all graphic designers.

You can follow him on Twitter.

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