Sudbury: Melting Pot for Men and Ore – by Don Delaplante (Maclean’s April 15, 1951) Part 2

Bad Eggs From The East

Sudbury’s polyglot population keeps the police force busy on a wholesale basis. The crime rate is about double that of other communities of like size in Canada. Last year the police made 2,243 arrests, of which 893 were under the Criminal Code.

The cases to be heard in the old Sudbury courthouse, built in 1908, are so numerous that there’s sometimes a mad scramble between lawyers and prisoners to get seats. Herds of 30 and 40 men and women are shepherded in a side door, among them drunks, derelicts, shady ladies and thieves of every description. The lawyers advance from the rear of the courtroom. Unless they’re nimble the legal lights find themselves relegated to the spectators’ section. The courthouse also contains the headquarters of the Ontario Provincial Police District of Sudbury, an area of more than 30,000 square miles.

“Drifters from both Eastern Canada and the West stop over here and a lot of them are bad eggs,” says Police Chief Jack McLaren, a calm-eyed, efficient war veteran, in defense of the local population.“For the record, there are a lot more criminals among the drifters originating in Eastern Canada.”

Sin follows the old conventions, with women, liquor and gambling the big police headaches. There are about 40 arrests a year for keeping bawdy houses and gaming houses. A vice syndicate which operates on a merry-go-round basis between Montreal, the Northwest Quebec mining towns, the Northern Ontario mining towns and Windsor, lists Sudbury as one of its prize bookings because of its high number of single men with cash. Police give prostitutes 24 hours to get out of town, thereafter send them to jail as vagrants.

A number of sizeable floating gambling games are under continual pursuit. Recently a 200-pund morality officer leaped through a skylight square to the top of a gambling table to nab the startled keeper and eight found-ins.

But times in Sudbury are not what they were in the heyday of Borgia Street, a short thoroughfare in the east-central section once reputed to be the toughest street in Canada.

The scene of several murders and the hangout of partying miners and lumberjacks, Borgia was noteworthy for the manner those rough-clad Good Time Charlies were lured to places of assignation by squads of street walkers, there to be clubbed by the ladies’ muscular consorts.

For a brief era a pretty woman known as Tiger Lil ruled the joints with an iron hand and by sheer physical power. Once she knocked down three constables in front of the police station. Another time she tore to ribbons the clothing of journalist Leslie MacFarlane, then a cub reporter on the Sudbury Star, as they rode in the wagon to the station. She had got in amiably enough, then attacked the reporter when he said he was “doing a story.:

The mettle of rookie constables used to be tested by sending them alone to patrol the street. “They gave me a hat that was too big on my first day of duty and I had to pad it out with strips of paper to keep it on,” recalls retired officer William Glennie. “On my first strut down the street one thug knocked the hat off and the other kicked it from one end to the other, with paper flying in all directions.”

Several new constables were separated from night sticks, handcuffs and miscellaneous articles of clothing when they made their debut on the street. Finally, one officer discovered that an excellent night stick, two feet long, could be made from a billiard cue and each man on the force armed himself accordingly.

“Sulphur farming” used to be one of Sudbury’s thriving subsidiary industries. This was in the days when International Nickel and the old Mond Nickel Company had open roasting yards at Copper Cliff and Coniston. Dense clouds of fumes billowed along the ground, destroying vegetation for miles. Farmers made claims by the hundreds and one, J. H. Clary, a lawyer, lead the assault against the big interests. Clary regularly sued once a year and incited all other farmers to do so.

In one memorable case a colored man employed by Clary testified that a prize bull owned by the lawyer had consistently lacked ambition to perform its duties. This, he claimed, was due to the sulphur fumes. The judge dismissed the claim, on the grounds no similar effects were noticed among humans in the area.

A provincial Sulphur Fumes Arbitrator was appointed in 1924 and the first of International Nickel’s big stacks, largest in the British Empire, was built in 1929. A sulphur extraction plant also cuts the concentration of the fumes. Today the arbitrator, W. H. Murray, a big man with a big smile, has about 25 cases a year with which to deal.

Red Sky By Night

Founded as a construction camp of the CPR, Sudbury’s ores were first noticed by Thomas Tait, private secretary of Sir William Van Horne. Tait brought samples back to Ottawa where they came to the attention of Samuel J. Richie, who is known as “the father of the industry.” It was Ritchie who first guessed the fabulous value of the nickel deposits and sparked the development of the Orford smelting process by which nickel was extracted from the Sudbury ore.

Ritchie formed the Canadian Copper Company and weathered tough financial storms before nickel came into its own. He once approached both the Krupps and the Rothschilds for assistance but they turned him down; then he lived to see the huge arms combines try and fail to buy his company out from under him.

The first private property owners in the Sudbury camp were the Jesuit Fathers, who came in the early 1880s and were ceded a large tract at the north end. The first store was a gents furnishing establishment which John Frawley opened in a tent on land leased from the Jesuits at $3 per month.

Ritchie proved the value of nickel steel in firing tests he persuaded the U.S. Navey to make in 1890 but, at the turn of the century, Sudbury’s population was still fewer than 2,000 and the major industries were lumbering and trapping. The only water supply was in a gravel pit owned by Stephen Fortin, who sold it for 25 cents a barrel.

Nickel blossomed first as a hardening agent for the war materials of World War One, then came into its own with the advent of the automobile era of the 1920s. today International Nickel’s great smelter at Copper Cliff is the largest of its kind in the world, handling 30,000 tons of ore a day, more than all the gold mines of Canada put together.

When slag is dumped at the smelter at night, the red glare is visible 25 miles away. Strangers, seeing it for the first time, think half of Sudbury has caught fire.

W. E. Mason, late publisher of the Sudbury Star, has become the city’s leading legend. Mason is reported to have fired more newspapermen than any other publisher in Canada. Veritable platoons of reporters were shown the door by him or thrown through it until today it’s regarded as a mark of distinction among the journalists to have been fired by him.

The Mayor’s a Canoe Champ

One of the most outstanding bouts ever to take place in the north was a fist-fight between Mason and James Y. Nicol, then his editor and nor a senior reporter of the Toronto Telegram. Nicol was triumphant, but jobless, when it ended.

Mason’s technique was to bully everyone within range of his voice, including the merchants who advertised in his paper. One reporter became so depressed at the incessant mental flogging that he typed out his own obituary and left it in the typewriter. Then he went and jumped into Ramsay Lake. However, he submitted to rescue at the last moment … Mason thereupon fired him.

Mason literally killed himself in 1948 when he stage-managed the campaign of Welland S. Gemmell, now Ontario Minister of Mines. The riding had been held by Robert Carlin, CCFer and Eastern Canadian director of the International union of Mine, mill and Smelter Workers, but the CCF soured on Carlin for Communist leanings, repudiated him and selected another candidate. Then Carlin decided he would run as an independent.

With the labour vote split, Mason slaved day and night to elect Gemmell via his paper and radio station, in spite of his doctor’s warning that his heart was failing. He stayed erect on election night until he learned his man had won by a few hundred votes, then collapsed and was taken to hospital, where he died. The bulk of his estate went to charity.
Another likely municipal immortal some day is Mayor Beaton, a scrappy little man with an unruly shock of hair, a former boxer and canoeist of championship caliber. He rules the city with a firm hand, to sundry mutterings of “dictatorship.”

In July, 1942, Beaton got out of the mayor’s chair at the age of 46 and vent down to Lake Ramsay to win the men’s singles canoe championship at the annual regatta, one of many such deed which have endeared him to the sports-mad public. One of the mayor’s dreams is coming true today across the street from the CPR station in the form of a $1,200,000 municipal arena.


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