The man behind Sudbury, Ont.'s iconic Big Nickel has died at 81.

Ted Szilva was a young fireman in Sudbury when came up with the idea of the enlarged replica of the 1951 Canadian nickel as a Canadian centennial project.

Szilva was named to the Order of Ontario in 2009 for his efforts, but there was little official interest in building the nickel at the time.

"[The city selection committee] said it wouldn't do anything good for Sudbury," Szilva said in an interview last year with CBC Sudbury. 

Szilva said he went on to pursue the project on his own, selling collector nickel medallions around the world to raise money for the project. 

A younger Ted Szilva in front of the Big Nickel

A younger Ted Szilva in front of the Big Nickel.

Then, he said he bought about 8.5 hectares of land — but "it was land-locked," with no access.

"And the city said they would never allow me to build up there, and they wouldn't give me a building permit." 

As to why so many people seemed to push back against the idea, Szilva said, "They thought it would be a Mickey Mouse operation! Look at what happened to Mickey Mouse!"

Local mining giant Inco, now Vale Canada Limited, stepped in to help.

"[They said] we'll lease you the additional land of four acres just so you can build the road up — and also build the nickel," Szilva said.

Despite a few other hurdles, including a spat with a city building inspector, the Big Nickel was built in 1964.

The iconic landmark is now the property of Science North and sits at the earth science centre Dynamic North. 

The coin includes King George VI, Canada's monarch in 1951, on the "heads" side, and a stylized nickel refinery with one large stack on the "tails" side. It weighs around 12 tonnes.

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger said he "was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of our community's most dedicated and passionate residents." In a news release issued Thursday, he offered condolences on behalf of the city to Szilva's friends, family, and loved ones

"Ted's resilience, entrepreneurship, and vision exemplified what it means to be a Greater Sudbury resident. The impact of Ted's life will be seen and felt in our community for centuries to come," Bigger said.

Footage from 1964 official dedication of the Big Nickel