This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Big Nickel, Sudbury’s most famous landmark, now part of the Dynamic Earth science museum. The numismatic monument was erected by then 28-year-old entrepreneur Ted Szilva, as part of his vision of creating the Canadian Centennial Numismatic Park.
When the Big Nickel was first constructed in 1964, it was the start of a number of coin monuments for the park. Four other large coin monuments would join the Big Nickel: the Fantasy Penny, the Lincoln Penny, the Kennedy Half Dollar, and 1967 $20 gold piece.
The Big Nickel is a replica of the commemorative Canadian 1951 five-cent piece, designed by Stephen Trenka to mark the bicentennial of the chemical isolation of nickel by the Swedish chemist Baron Axel Frederic Cronstedt. The obverse features King George VI, who was the monarch at the time. The reverse depicts a stylized nickel refinery.
The City of Greater Sudbury is linked to the monument through its famous nickel-bearing ore.
The author’s first note featuring a military band, a $1 issue from the Bahamas.Weighing in at nearly 13,000 kilograms, the Big Nickel is roughly 64,607,747 times the size of its namesake.
When the numismatic park came under the ownership of Science North in 1984, the science centre renamed it The Big Nickel Mine, which included removing the other monuments, but keeping the Big Nickel.
The Big Nickel Mine would remain unchanged until 2001, when work started on the site of the former numismatic park to begin the transformation into a new attraction, Dynamic Earth, an earth sciences centre.
To keep the Big Nickel available to the public while working on building Dynamic Earth, the numismatic monument was moved to a temporary location on the shores of Ramsey Lake at the site of Science North, Sudbury’s main science centre.
Dynamic Earth is releasing a commemorative medal in celebration of the Big Nickel’s birthday as well as Science North’s 30th anniversary.Finally in 2003, the Big Nickel was returned to its original home, the former site of the Big Nickel Mine. The giant coin had been refurbished and cleaned up while it had been at Science North. Since 2003 the Big Nickel has watched over the earth sciences and mining science centre as it has gone through its additional three phases of development.
Dynamic Earth is planning a season-long celebration of the monument’s 50th birthday.
This year’s special exhibit, In The Money, is on loan from the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum. It features all things numismatic, including Dynamic Earth’s own coin collection along with medals, medallions and medallets from the area. As part of the exhibit, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! currency artifacts and art are featured. Visitors can also make their own paper, wooden tokens and shredded money creations.
In partnership with the Nickel Belt Coin Club, a new permanent exhibit has been installed featuring the evolution of the Canadian five-cent coin since its introduction in 1858.
For those who are just learning about numismatics, Dynamic Earth is also hosting the Currency Roadshow. Each month, Sudbury’s own Nickel Belt Coin Club will be at Dynamic Earth to identify and value numismatic items brought in by visitors.
The Nickel Belt Coin Club has been heavily involved in the development of this year’s special exhibit, going as far as to donate parts of their collections to Dynamic Earth.
Dynamic Earth will hold a celebration on the Big Nickel’s birthday, July 22, where the science museum will attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the largest coin mosaic and the most toonies stacked in 30 seconds. A number of speakers will be presenting that day to commemorate the event, followed by live entertainment and fireworks in the evening.
Medals became popular in the Sudbury area in the 1960s according to Jeff Fournier, president of the Nipissing Coin Club and author of the book Sudbury Numismatics. “Medal collecting was popular in that time period,” Fournier said. Szilva began minting medals to support the park project.
In 1964 the first medal was struck. The obverse of the medal features the Big Nickel and the reverse displays Inco’s reduction plant. Only 300 of these were minted, at first. They sold out within days and Szilva ordered more to meet the demand for the commemorative piece.
On July 22, 1964, the Big Nickel was dedicated. By the end of 1964, a second monument, the Fantasy Copper, named from its sponsor, Fantasy Copperware Canada, was announced. The company’s logo was featured on the reverse of the commemorative medal sold to help support the construction of the monument. Issued in December 1964, the obverse of the medal depicts the future monument on a pedestal. The monument itself was unveiled on May 14, 1965 in a ceremony led by former prime minister John Diefenbaker.
Szilva’s park grew to become more than numismatic masterpieces. He also built a model mine for the public to tour underground, in an effort to share what local miners experienced on a daily basis.
He released another medal to help fund the construction of the underground mine attraction as well to pay for the park’s maintenance. The medal had a much lower mintage than the previous three issues. The obverse of this medal includes of a mine head frame, ore cars and three Inco smokestacks while the reverse shows a cross-section of a mineshaft. Issued in March 1965, the medal was available in nickel-silver, bronze, silver, and gold. By May of the same year, the model mine was opened for public viewing.
Replica medals were released for both the 1951 five-cent piece and 1965 penny. They were released in a variety of metal compositions as more visitors asked for medals of both the coin the Big Nickel was modelled after and the Big Penny.
While the Big Nickel is still on display, the whereabouts of the other coins is a lingering question. When Fournier was researching for his book, he looked for answers as to what happened to the other monuments.
“I did track down a maintenance person who had worked at the Big Nickel, and he claimed all the monuments were taken down and sold for recycling,” Fournier said.
Dynamic Earth is releasing a commemorative medal in celebration of the Big Nickel’s birthday as well as Science North’s 30th anniversary. The 45 mm brass medal will feature an aerial view of Science North with “30 years 1984-2014” overlaid on the picture. Along the edge “SCIENCE NORTH SUDBURY ONTARIO” is written with two snowflakes pictured. On the reverse is an image of the Big Nickel with “50 years 1964–2014” overlaid on the picture. Along the edge “DYNAMIC EARTH HOME OF THE BIG NICKEL” is written with two snowflakes pictured. There will be 1,000 medals minted in the first issue.
For more information, visit http://sciencenorth.ca/promos/50/.
By Jacob Touchette