Junction Creek, Sudbury

For a country of its size, Canada does not have too many large cities north of its Trans-Canada Highway. In the province of Ontario, one city that is further north is Sudbury, Ontario, having grown on the success of its nickel mining industry. Built in 1883 around a railway junction that spanned a creek, this stream received the name Junction Creek.

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At the exact junction and the nearby downtown of Sudbury, the creek is forced underground, but there has been plenty of effort to raise its profile in the public discussion.

Where it Flows

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The furthest headwaters of Junction Creek are at Garson Mine, a nickel mine with a community built around it. From there it flows across a forested terrain while picking up water from two tributaries, Maley Branch and Flood Branch. The map above comes from the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee.

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Closer to the city center, a walking path follows the creek, expanding its visibility beyond the roads that cross it. Signs in the city’s parks, and all public facilities are in English and French. Quebec isn’t the only bilingual province. Areas with sizable Francophone populations are also required to have bilingual signage. This includes large chunks of Ontario and New Brunswick.

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Approaching the intersection of Notre Dame Avenue and Lloyd Street, Junction Creek descends into a ravine that is forced underground at Hnatyshyn Park. Its namesake is the first Governor General of Canada of Ukrainian ancestry.

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Along with the English, Scottish, French, and First Nations groups, Ukrainians also left their mark on Canadian culture, immigrating here in large numbers in the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries. Junction Creek flows beneath this park.

Why the Creek was Covered

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This section of the creek was covered in the early 1960s as a safeguard against flooding in the city’s downtown. Photos such the one above from Greater Sudbury Public Library reminded the public of the creek’s dangerous potential. In 1977, one superblock atop the stream was developed as Tom Davies Square, the civic center of Sudbury.

Tom Davies Square

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Its designer John Stefura had the civic center built atop reinforced concrete piles driven 200 feet into the ground as much of the soil here was too soft on account of Junction Creek. In his goal to create a central public space for the city, the main building has an atrium and outdoor plaza with a reflecting pool.

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But the concrete pool is small in relation to the larger plaza surrounding it. The modernist tastes of the 1970s appear unwelcoming in the postmodern age, as many cities seek to make their civic centers have a more human scale with a park-like setting. The city has plans to redesign this space, which will hearken to Sudbury’s past of creeks and lakes.

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No design has been chosen yet, but the Executive Summary of the 2012 Downtown Sudbury Master Plan offers a hint of a very green the redesigned plaza. This lively public conversation reminds me of New York’s Federal Plaza, which went from the drab 1968 open plaza, to its 2013 transformation by Michael Van Valkenburgh. The creek flows through a concrete pipe deep beneath the civic center. Is there any chance it could be daylighted? Down here it receives a tributary, Nolin Creek, which also has trails following it further upstream while its confluence with Junction Creek is underground.

Downtown Sudbury Master Plan

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How to make downtown Sudbury attractive to residents and visitors. That’s what the master plan seeks to address. Looking at the planning map above, Paris Street (No. 32), Tom Davies Square (37) and Memorial Park (22) appear to have enough open space for at least partial daylighting of Junction Creek.

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The reality however is that the creek’s culvert is too deep below street level to enable daylighting.

What could be done instead is to have fountains, pools, and channels on the surface that approximate the historic course of the creek.

The illustration on the left demonstrates this idea. Such examples can be found in New York, where Collect Pond Park has a decorative pool evoking the long-gone namesake pond.

Likewise in Seoul, where the restored Cheonggyecheon is not the actual river which flows deep below the linear park and surface stream.

Under the City

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In a May 6 tweet, Laurentian University geneticist Thomas Merritt paddled the entire underground section of Junction Creek from Hnatyshyn Park to the ravine at Riverside Drive. “All the way,” he commented.

I have three questions for Dr. Merritt: Did it smell at all down there? How dark was it? Can this experience be capitalized on as an adventure/ecotourism attraction? Throw in a few lantern lights and murals, and Sudbury can have a public underground stream experience. Montreal did with a section of Little St. Pierre river flowing through a museum basement, and Sydney allows for tours through its underground Tank Stream.

Downstream Junction Creek

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The creek returns to the surface after leaving downtown. At Worthington Crescent and Riverside Drive is a portal from which the water flows out. From here the creek forms a ravine.

Nearly four miles downstream from this portal, Junction Creek enters Kelly Lake. Through a series of connected rivers and lakes, the water of Junction Creek drains into the Great Lakes and eventually Niagara Falls and St. Lawrence River before entering the ocean.

Stream and the City

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The leading voice for the ongoing cleanup and maintenance of Junction Creek is the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee, active since 1999 in organizing public events along this waterway.

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Sudbury is a long way from becoming a metropolis like Toronto and Montreal, and perhaps its destiny is to remain a small city. It must look to the future when mining will be entirely exhausted for other sources of employment and revenue.

In the meantime, it has made great strides in cleaning up Junction Creek, transforming it from an afterthought into a linear blue-green trail that connects the city’s neighborhoods, even as it remains buried beneath its center.

Canada does not have as many large cities as its southern neighbor, but there are plenty of examples of hidden urban streams across the maple leaf nation. Having written about Toronto and Montreal, going west one can learn about Confederation Creek in Calgary, Vancouver has more than a dozen lost streams., and in that province the capital city of Victoria has Bowker Creek.

In the News:

The Nature of Cities has a detailed report on the hidden waterways of Seattle by Jason King.

Star-Tribune reports on the underground streams of Duluth, Minnesota.

Halifax Today reports on the daylighting of the Sawmill (Punmakati) River in the neighboring town of Dartmouth.

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