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5 facts you may not know about the Big Nickel

August 18, 2021

This photo, which appeared in a July 2014 Vale News story, was taken at the Big Nickel’s 50th birthday celebration where our company was the presenting sponsor. Pictured in the photo is our former East Mines Mine Rescue Team. Photo: Vale Archive

In July, TVO.org published a story about the history of the nine-metre, 13,000-kilogram Big Nickel, which has become Sudbury, ON’s most recognizable landmark since it was first erected in 1964. The story, Roadside-attraction showdown: Sudbury’s Big Nickel, is part of a summer-long, weekly series that features “the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.”

Many of the interesting facts from the TVO story were based on the book, The Big Nickel: The Untold Story, which was co-authored by the late Ted Szilva, who dreamed up the idea for a giant nickel tourist attraction, and his son Jim. Vale News also found some good nuggets in the Inco Triangle archives. Here are five (in recognition of the Big Nickel, of course) that even some of us who are Sudburians may not know: 

  • If not for Vale (then Inco), the Big Nickel may not have been built. According to the TVO article, Big Nickel founder Ted Szilva was refused a building permit by the city, with some councillors even calling the visionary’s idea “a Mickey Mouse operation.” Ted had already invested $1,000 for the land that overlooks our Copper Cliff Smelter, but without a building permit, he couldn’t start construction. So, our company stepped in and gave him a 99-year lease on an adjacent property for a dollar a year – and the rest is history. 
  • How much did it cost Ted to construct an exact replica of the 1951 Canadian nickel? $35,000
  • That nickel turned to gold. Ted eventually purchased the adjacent property from our company, and then in 1980 sold his Big Nickel and the land to the city (what was then referred to as the regional municipality) for $525,000. 
  • Inco Triangle covered the big news about the Big Nickel. In July 1964, Volume 24 edition of our company’s former employee newsletter, the Inco Triangle, there’s an article titled, “Big Nickel joins famous stacks as tourist treat.” The opening sentence reads: “A striking new symbol of the Sudbury district has joined the famous Inco stacks on the skyline of “The Nickel Capital of the World.” 
  • The Sudbury nickel dollar. According to the Triangle article, there was a souvenir shop onsite that sold “Sudbury nickel dollars,” which featured our company’s Copper Cliff reduction works (where minerals were refined) on one side and the Big Nickel on the other. This collector’s item was available in nickel ($1.25), copper ($1.25), silver ($8), and even gold ($175). 

Take a trip down memory lane with this story about the Big Nickel’s 50th birthday

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