Rocking Sudbury as a Family

by Stephen Johnson

We had a rocky adventure in Sudbury, Ontario—and so can you.  I am not referring to any family misfortune or extreme sports, mind you.  I’m talking about our son’s interest in geology.  Like a lot of kids, David loves rocks. Sudbury, otherwise known as the ‘Big Nickel’ and the mining capital of Canada, was the perfect place to nurture his passion.

What strikes you first when driving into Sudbury are the rock outcroppings.  It’s not unusual to see a boulder almost the size of a house. Once at our hotel, David immediately found boulders nearby that made for a great climbing adventure.  After a good night’s sleep, there were lots more of those to come.

Now that's a nickel!

Now that’s a nickel!

The following day, we went to perhaps the most geologically-centred attraction in Canada. Over the years, millions of people have had their pictures taken beside the famous Sudbury Big Nickel.  Alongside the nickel, there is now Dynamic Earth.  David had been asking me if it’s possible to visit the centre of Earth. Trust me: the underground mine tour offered at Dynamic Earth is the next best option. Before the tour started, we were given hard hats and ushered into a glass elevator. There was brief video about the geological history of Sudbury, then the elevator descended.  It was pretty exciting to head down seven storeys, a bit like visiting the ultimate man cave. An overview of mining history and a simulated dynamite blast were included in the tour and we got to experience, to a certain degree, what it is like to be a miner.

Back on the surface, Dynamic Earth has a lot more to offer.  We made our way over to the Rockhound Lab, where visitors can have a blast exploring the wonders of geology. David enjoyed playing with the super-sized magnet and I learned that certain rocks have strong magnetic properties. (My sidekick just thought it was fun the way rocks were sticking to the magnet!)   

Panning for gold and exploring the ultimate man cave

After David overheard another child mention gold, naturally we did some digging (pun intended) and found out there was a place to pan for gold at the museum. Forward ho! We definitely had gold fever and rushed downstairs, where we discovered a long trough filled with sand and continuously running water.  A staff member told us there were little gold flecks buried in the sand and showed us how to do the panning.  David quickly got the hang of it and found two small pieces of gold. He was thrilled. We may plan our next summer vacation to go gold panning in the Yukon.   

Panning for gold at Dynamic Earth.

Panning for gold at Dynamic Earth.

All the sightseeing made us hungry so we checked out our dining options. I had read that Sudbury had many good Italian eateries and we found a pizza joint, Cortina Restaurant, near Dynamic Earth. The exterior was not fancy, but I had probably the best meatball sub in my life.

We finished our day with a visit to the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area, a scenic wilderness setting with a man-made lake and pond, lookouts, nature trails and bird-watching areas. Once upon a time, Sudbury was noted for its desolate landscape, due to pollution.  Not anymore. Improved technologies and a massive tree-planting effort by local residents have turned this destination into an environmental success story.  Walking the green trails at Lake Laurentian, it was obvious all the hard work has paid off.

Checking out the rocks at Lake Laurentian Conservation Area.

Checking out the rocks at Lake Laurentian Conservation Area.

The following day we headed to Science North, one of the largest science centres in the country. Overlooking Lake Ramsay, the building itself is an architectural attraction.  But David wasn’t interested in the structure; he was dazzled by the special Ice Age exhibit.  Animals from this era have been recreated and they were so lifelike that, at first, he was nervous to approach them. He quickly got over his apprehension, though, and he loved the show.

After I was soundly beaten by my youngster in a game of Guess the Extinct Ice-Age Animal, we moved on to the centre’s planetarium.  It features perhaps the best show and explanation about space I have ever seen. Then, to get to the main part of the complex, we went through an underground tunnel that was blasted from 2.3 billion-year-old bedrock, give or take a few years! Yup, it was a dynamite experience.

The first thing you notice about the main part of the facility is the sheer number of exhibits and activities.  A person could easily take two or three visits to explore all the attractions. We headed to the Northern Ecosystems show, since David had heard there were snakes and a porcupine. We got to see both and had the chance to touch an albino black rat snake. We also caught an awesome show about fire in the Discovery Theatre. The animator conducted a number of experiments with fire that literally had the audience oohing and aahing.

Next we checked out the BodyZone, where David lay down on a bed of nails, and we checked out a full-scale model of human internal organs.  At the Space Place exhibit, David got to try picking up objects using a robot arm.

A bed of nails? No problem for this brave explorer.

A bed of nails? No problem for this brave explorer.

Our day ended with a movie about pandas in the Imax theatre.  Since we did not see everything at Science North, we have vowed to make a return visit.

When you’re at Science North, it’s definitely worthwhile to check out the Bell Park Walkway, a beautiful promenade along Lake Ramsay with an amphitheatre, beach and excellent playground.  We also visited the James Jerome Sports Complex in the area. This facility has multiple soccer fields and a wonderful playground.

While in Sudbury, we had a relaxing stay at the Hampton Inn. The hotel seems to be geared towards families and they put on a hearty breakfast. For details about Sudbury, see Find out more about Dynamic Earth and Science North at

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