Dick Johnstone struggles to name a benefit of amalgamation of the City of Greater Sudbury. After a moment to reflect, he says seeing transit buses in his community has been a good result.

"I guess that one's alright, but I'm looking around but I can't find too much more," he said.

Johnstone was a town councillor and then mayor of the Town of Walden prior to amalgamation. It's been 16 and a half years since seven towns and one city joined together to create the current City of Greater Sudbury.

Since then, the topic of amalgamation and whether it was the right decision has come up for a number of issues — everything from fire services and tax rates.

How did the City of Greater Sudbury come to be?

In 1999, the provincial government put forward Bill 25 called the Fewer Municipal Politicans Act. The bill was designed to amalgamate several communities to create the city. The province put forward the bill to create efficiencies and save money. 

"They said 'get ready, you're in for a ride.' And we got a ride." - Dick Johnstone

Johnstone says there was very little consultation done with elected municipal officials during the process.

"We had a few informal meetings where the mayors got together .... and then it came about that they came up to us and said amalgamation is going to happen," he recalled.

Dick Johnstone

Dick Johnstone is the former mayor of the Town of Walden. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

"It went in Halifax [as] they did a big amalgamation. So we got a hold of Halifax when we heard about the rumblings, got to it and asked them what could happen and what's going on. They explained quite a bit to us and they said 'get ready, you're in for a ride.' And we got a ride."

Provincial decision

The province appointed a committee to oversee the process. George Lund remembers it well as he had just retired from a career in broadcasting and was on a vacation in Africa when he got a call from the premier's office asking if he would chair the amalgamation committee. 

"There [were] people that were for it and against it," he said.

"But in our case, we weren't making the decision to do it. The decision was already made by the province. So as a committee, we were just entrusted with going ahead and doing it."

Lund says the committee worked for a year on creating the new City of Greater Sudbury. In that time, he says they created about 80 per cent of the new city and handed it over to the newly elected council in 2001.

What changed?

Before amalgamation, there were more than 50 municipal politicians who represented the various communities, including mayors, deputy mayors and councillors. After amalgamation, that number shrunk down to one mayor and 12 councillors who represented the entire city.

The physical boundries also changed as the city became much larger. According to the city, Greater Sudbury is 3,627 square kilometres in area, making it geographically the largest municipality in Ontario and the second largest in Canada.

Lund says the committee worked in creating the new city to try and have every area benefit.

Town of Walden

The Town of Walden, along with several other communities, became part of the City of Greater Sudbury in 2001. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

"Our intention when we put it together was to keep the taxes down, lower the taxes in all the outside of the city of Sudbury and keep Sudbury's taxes about the same," he said. "The model that we presented, that's exactly what it was."

But Johnstone says he's not quite sure that happened. He says he feels amalgamation restuled in the outer lying areas losing control of a number of things. For example, Johnstone says Walden used to handle its own finances and services, and that changed when amalgamation happened.

"We were fully ... sufficient here. We had everything. We had money in the bank. Our recreation was good," he said.

"We had to give all this up to go in and give into the City of Sudbury. So we weren't very happy in that way that everything was going to go up [and] there would be no control out here whatsoever."

Looking back

Lund says as other cities were going through the same process, it wasn't a controversial move in all areas. He says looking back, he would have made a few changes as to how the process happened in Sudbury.

"In hindsight, I think we would have done some things different." - George Lund

"In our case, it was a little different tham some of the communities in that we had the seven or eight towns or cities that were amalgamated and they were spread out quite a bit," he explained.

"In hindsight, I think we would have done some things different in involving the elected officials."