Creighton state of mind: Vanished town reunion back after hiatus

Categories: Canada

The former residents of Creighton Mine, a local company town that was shuttered in the 1980s, return for the first community reunion since 2019

They came from Guelph, Saskatoon, Ottawa, North Bay and Perth to remember a place that is no more — except in the hearts and memories of those who knew it and loved it.

Creighton Mine, located about 20 kilometres west of Sudbury, was the last company-owned town in Ontario.

The town was established by the Canadian Copper Company, the forerunner of Inco, to accommodate miners who worked at Creighton Mine, the deepest nickel mine in Canada and one of the most profitable. 

Open pit mining began in 1901. By 1906, when underground mining began, an estimated 900 miners were living in Creighton, housed in log buildings lit by oil lamps. 

As Creighton grew, Inco built boarding houses, apartment buildings and single-family homes that were rented to employees. Rent and utility fees were deducted from miners’ paycheques.

There were grocery stores, restaurants, clothes stores, churches, schools, a post office and a movie theatre, as well as legendary baseball and hockey teams and a police force.

By the late 1940s, the town’s population of about 2,200 started to dwindle as miners were able to commute from Sudbury and other nearby communities.

In 1986, Inco announced it had become too expensive to maintain the community.

“We were incurring annual net loss of about $750,000 as well as charges that we were keeping land from the public,” property management superintendent Don Taylor told the Inco Triangle in September 1988. “In short, we’re into nickel, not real estate.” 

From the mid-1970s on, Inco began acquiring homes as they became available, reducing the number from 400 to 244 by 1986. Inco sent out a notice in February 1986 to the remaining residents that it intended to terminate all leases by June 9, 1988. 

Tenants who rented from Inco were told they could have their house free of charge if they paid to have the structure moved off Inco’s property. All buildings, including the churches and schools, which held so many memories, were eventually demolished.

In 1989, at the first Creighton Mine Reunion, Creightonites unveiled a memorial at the entrance to the former town.

The memorial plaque says, “Dedicated to the people of Creighton Mine, who formed this community of love, labour and loyalty amongst these rocky hills.”

Dedicated Creightonites have returned to remember their tight-knit community every year since 1989, save from 2020-2022, when the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way.

On July 9, at least 100 people gathered at the Anderson Farm Museum to remember Creighton Mine, rekindle friendships and pick up a copy of the latest book on the history of the community. It was the 31st reunion.

The book, “Heartfelt Memories of Creighton Mine,” was written by former Creightonites Alex Kowalenko (now in Ottawa), Earl Waytowich (Sudbury) and John Tricco (Hanmer), with a forward by Erna de Burger-Fex, who is the prime organizer of the annual reunions and a former columnist for Northern Life.

“This book is about our love of Creighton Mine,” Tricco said. “It’s full of lots of stories — some of them are true,” he added with a laugh.

The 326-page covers the origins and history of the community, as well as artwork, photos and anecdotes from former residents. 

All proceeds from the sale of the book will support the Sudbury Women’s Centre. 

Contact Alexander Kowalenko at [email protected] for information on how to get a copy.

Kowalenko said there was something special about the tight-knit community and that’s what keeps people coming back.

“It’s nostalgia, but also remembering just how helpful people were with their neighbours,” he said. “You knew your neighbours, you had friends, all the services you needed were in the town — it was a community in every sense of the word.”

Many of the town’s residents were immigrants, such as the de Burgers and the Kowalenkos, and many were fleeing a Europe in shambles from the Second World War.

“Our country was devastated after the war,” de Burger said. “Still, it took my father two years to convince my mother to leave.”

Many residents watched as familiar landmarks of Creighton Mine were demolished when the town was closed. The razing of the town club, the site of many community and family events, was particularly painful, former residents said.

“It was so sad,” de Burger said. “A lot of history was just erased.”

One former resident, Ed Tyreman, brought something special with him to this year’s reunion. Inspired by a Facebook post by Tricco about the two biggest churches in the former community, Tyreman created scale replicas in wood of St. Michael’s Church and the Fraternity United Church. 

The United Church was particularly meaningful for him, as his father was the church electrician, and Tyreman himself was born in the church manse, where the family was living at the time.

Another former Creighton resident is Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, who grew up in the community. The city councillor was on hand for the event to bring greetings from the city, but he also stepped in as a bit of saviour.

The Creighton Mine reunions usually include a visit to the former townsite, a kind of historical pilgrimage. This year, however, that almost didn’t happen. 

While there was a verbal agreement that people could visit, Vagnini told the attendees that it appeared Vale security was not going to let people onto the site. However, Vagnini managed to get that earlier decision reversed so the visitors could make their pilgrimage.

-with files from Vicki Gilhula

Mark Gentili is the editor of

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