Back to News   Sara Miller Llana

Sep 28, 2020


Industry News

The Sudbury model: How one of the world’s major polluters went green


When the Superstack was constructed in 1972, it was the tallest structure in Canada – and the tallest smokestack in the world. At 1,250 feet, it’s visible from every vantage point in the area. It can be seen from the bustling streets of downtown to the quiet cul-de-sacs of residential neighborhoods. It looms large in the distance from highways that feed into a city that is home to one of the largest mining complexes in the world. 

Built by Canadian company Inco before it was purchased by Vale, the Superstack has long stood as a reminder of the environmental devastation that mining wrought here. But this year the chimney is being fully decommissioned.

Residents of Sudbury harbor mixed feelings about the Superstack. Some see it as a memorial to their rise as a center of nickel and copper mining globally. Others see it simply as a familiar landmark that signals they are home. Gisele Lavigne lives in the Copper Cliff neighborhood at the Superstack’s base. She spends her evenings looking at the towering structure from her yard, and likes it when the stack disappears behind a heavy fog. “And when it rains, you’ll see half a stack, depending on which way the wind blows,” says her partner, John Leach, who works in the mining industry doing sand and high-pressure water blasting.

Others see the Superstack as a relic of an era of polluting that doesn’t fit with the current ethos of Sudbury. One leading scientist here, John Gunn, believes the concrete shell should be “blown up.”

Whether or not the structure remains a fixture on the skyline when it’s taken out of operation, it tells a powerful tale of renewal. The stack was built as part of an industrial complex that denuded the land here of any kind of vegetation, leaving blackened rocks and lakes without fish. The landscape drew comparisons to moonscapes and barren Martian worlds. At one time the smelters in Sudbury were the largest point source of sulfur dioxide in the world.

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