Historic mining facility in Copper Cliff to be demolished by year's end

A long-standing landmark is set to disappear from the Greater Sudbury skyline. The former Copper Cliff iron ore recovery plant, located across the highway from Vale's current headquarters, is being demolished. The company says the building will be gone by the end of 2018.

The Copper Cliff iron ore recovery plant was built by INCO in 1953

The Copper Cliff iron ore recovery plant was built in 1953. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

It was an iconic part of Greater Sudbury's mining history to some, and a decaying eyesore to others, but the former Copper Cliff iron ore recovery plant is finally coming down.

Starting in the mid-1950s, the facility was used to separate remaining traces of iron ore and sulphur from waste produced by nickel mining operations.

Vale spokesperson Angie Robson said there should be no trace of the facility by the end of 2018.

"Obviously it was a very historically significant part of our operations. It employed many in the community over the years, so it's quite significant that the plant is now being decommissioned," said Robson.

Vale says the former Copper Cliff iron ore recovery plant will be demolished before the end of 2018. Starting in the mid-1950s, the facility was used to recover traces of iron ore and sulphur from waste produced by nickel mining operations. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

INCO began construction on the plant in 1953, while its chimney was built the following year.

The facility stopped operating in 1990, though its smokestack was redirected to serve a nearby nickel refinery. That chimney will remain standing and in use well into the future.

Vale took over the site when it purchased INCO in 2007 and has been planning to demolish the former plant for nearly a decade.

Falcons move out

The company had been forced to wait, however, as endangered peregrine falcons had selected the building as an annual nesting site.

Vale was forced to accommodate the birds, which were listed as a threatened species under Ontario's Endangered Species Act.

Peregrine falcons have since seen their at-risk status downgraded by the province.

Peregrine falcons are no longer considered endangered or threatened in Ontario. (Dennis Swayze)

Robson said the birds that called the former recovery plant home seem to have moved out for now. She said the birds have been using nesting boxes set up nearby to coax the falcons away.

"The peregrines, as recently as last year, have used these nesting boxes. We haven't seen them yet this year, but certainly we're on the lookout because we want to make sure they're not harmed as part of this work," noted Robson.

She added that specialized contractors have been hired to deal with a site that may still contain traces of poisonous substances.

"Give the age of the building [...] there are materials in the building we have to be cognisant of and treat carefully, like asbestos, nickel, cobalt and copper," said Robson.

"We do have things like fire hoses for water suppression [of dust] and air monitors just to make sure we're doing this work safely in a way that protects the environment."


Kevin Conley worked at the plant for two years in the late 1970s.

Other than the often overwhelming smell of ammonia, it's the relationships he remembers most from his time spent there.

But he wasn't a big fan of the building itself.

"I wanted to get out of there as quick as I could," recalled Conley with a laugh. "Just the friends and the co-workers, you know you develop friendships with them, so you miss those fellas, yeah."

Former record-holder

The facility's chimney was erected by INCO in 1954. At 194 metres (637 feet), it was the tallest smokestack of its kind in the world for eight years.

Between 1954 and 1962, this smokestack was the tallest of its kind in the world. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

It was surpassed by the 220-metre (722-foot) chimney at Schilling Power Station in Stade, Germany in 1962.

Vale's Sudbury superstack, built by INCO in 1971, is still the world's second-tallest chimney at 380 metres (1,247 feet).

The GRES-2 Power Station chimney in Kazakhstan has held the top spot since 1987 at just under 420 metres (1,377 feet) in height.