Ted Szilva publishes his memoirs in time for icon's 50th anniversary
Szilva outlines his struggles to create the monument in his book, “The Big Nickel: The Untold Story,” which he co-wrote with his son, Jim Szilva.
Szilva first came up with the idea to create a giant nickel monument when he entered a contest to commemorate Canada's centennial. He didn't win the contest, but decided to build the monument himself, opening it in 1964.
Szilva — a firefighter by trade at the time — raised the $50,000 it cost to build the structure by selling miniature medallion versions of the monument.
He bought a piece of land in the city's west end for $1,000. It was when he built a road connecting the tourist attraction to Lorne Street that he started receiving opposition from city officials.
A building inspector accused him of building a road in the City of Sudbury without a permit. But Szilva had built the road on leased Inco land in the bordering Town of Copper Cliff, which was then a separate municipality.
“I said 'I'm building four feet outside the city limit, so why are you harassing me?'” he said.
“All the faces went white. And (then-Mayor Joe Fabbro) said you know, Ted wants to build a tourist attraction, and it's going to employ people. It's going to bring a lot of people into this city.
“You know what guys, maybe he's just a little smarter than you. So leave him alone.”
This wasn't the last bureaucratic red tape Szilva had to deal with. He said he had to fight to get electricity and running water on the property, too.
When the Big Nickel first opened, he had outhouses set up because he wasn't connected to the municipal water system yet.
Szilva went on to build the Big Nickel Mine — a miniature mine located on the same site as the nickel monument — the following year, in 1965, as a training facility for Cambrian College students.
He also built four more giant coins on the site, and installed a carousel, totem poles and a miniature train. While the mine and the Big Nickel monument still exist, all of the other attractions have since been removed.
Obviously proud of his creation, Szilva said the singular Big Nickel helped attract visitors to the city.
“I was the person that started tourism in Sudbury,” Szilva said.
He said he was also the first person to propose a science centre for the city.
Szilva ended up selling the Big Nickel to the precursor of Science North in 1981, because the province wouldn't give a grant to build a science centre to a private individual.
“It really is an amazing story,” Jim Szilva said, when asked what he thinks of his father's story. “It's about believing in your dreams, and it's about having that tenacity.”
Szilva said he's excited to see how his idea has developed over the years, and grateful to everyone who has helped him along the way. The book includes a list of 1,800 people who helped to make his dream come true.
“The Big Nickel: The Untold Story” retails for $31.50, and is available for purchase at Dynamic Earth, Science North, A&J Home Hardware and online at thebignickelbook.com.
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