When planning an art exhibition there are many logistics to consider—time of the year is significant but generally not the most pressing priority. However, when we (me and my partner Gary who is also an artist) were asked to create an exhibition for the Art Gallery of Sudbury, there was a vague reference to it taking place in mid winter. Since these things take three to five years to plan, we didn’t realize that we had actually agreed to an exhibition in Sudbury in the middle of January 2015 until it was far too late to reconsider.
Trepidation set in, however what transpired was perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences we have ever had in Sudbury as winter gives that city and its surrounding areas a unique and truly ‘great white north’ adventurous appeal. While planning our stay, we had to help install our work and be present for an artist talk at the opening, I took a look at the City of Greater Sudbury/Sudbury Tourism website to see what attractions would also be open at that time of year. Science North was open, yes!! But Dynamic Earth wasn’t however; a trip to the Big Nickel in winter was going to be a must regardless of the weather.
The attractions that stay open all year are cultural such as the Art Gallery of Sudbury and the Galerie du Nouvel (GNO), the artist-run centre and a truly hot hub for all things artsy in the downtown. The other delight about Sudbury ,and not a well known fact, is the delicious and diverse places to eat which were all open and ready to serve even as the temperature dropped to minus 30.
Things to know when you plan to stay in Northeastern Ontario in January: It can be really cold. But it’s beautiful; in fact you will be astonished at how winter makes this part of the world an endlessly stunning photo op. We take a circuitous route through the Muskokas as we live west of them. We like the tertiary Hwy 141 and then onto 69 or the Trans Canada Highway. Taking Hwy 69, you’ll be treated to all the great rocks, ice formations, and the Animal Bridge! You can also take Hwy 400 to North Bay, where there is plenty to see and visit!
We landed in Sudbury with much to do. Our accommodations was just a short walk to the Art Gallery of Sudbury across a walking bridge over the train tracks. Because of Sudbury’s resource past/present there are trains running through the middle of the downtown. People had decorated the bridge with love locks. Such quirky romance was a surprise.
The Art Gallery of Sudbury is housed in a venerable heritage building known locally as the Belrock Mansion. Its grounds are lovely with a view of Ramsey Lake. The building itself is wonderfully eccentric and makes a fine gallery. It has enough space to view art work and cozy enough to spend an afternoon which many Sudburians did during our exhibition.
On our first night we were tired and decided to make it simple. We trekked up to the Townhouse Tavern (night in -30 in Sudbury has its own poetry). This is a true blue old fashioned Ontario tavern with some very modern flare. Its kitchen is superb with loads of variety and local beer, like Stack Brewing, are on tap. That night the entire local NDP party was in the house for beers and discussion – what’s not to love about a place where local actually means local?
We also dined at the wonderful Bella Vita Cucina, an Italian bistro that was serving local food. In fact there was a locavore food festival happening while we were there… in January. But if you actually like an old fashioned diner with BLTs and all day breakfast, there is always Gus’ – 60 years on its still cheap, friendly and low rent enough to be cool – hipsters abound the day we had lunch.
With an afternoon off we decided to get in the car and take a look around the city. We had visited and studied Sudbury over the years but never in winter. Driving around Copper Cliff Park, where the huge iconic stack is, we were treated to surreal moments of industrial activity through huge clouds of steam due to the extreme temperature. We then took to highest point and visited the Big Nickel at Dynamic Earth. Until you have stood next to the Nickel you just can’t understand its appeal. A Nickel selfie was had and we both felt pretty smug about bracing the biting wind to pay homage to one of Ontario’s greatest kitsch attractions.
That night we attended an opening at the Galerie du Nouvel (GNO) for a visiting artist from Alberta. The GNO is small but hefty in terms of the level of work it exhibits; it is an essential cultural site that is always well attended, fun and stimulating. Our opening was the very next day on a bright, sunny freezing afternoon but it quickly warmed with over a hundred people stopping by to say hello and see our work. To be an artist in the Canadian north is a very special thing and Sudbury is a place that makes this a fact.