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From 'white elephant' to success story: Science North at 30

By: Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Jun 19, 2014 - 4:40 PM |
Dave Pearson and Guy Labine use a special device to blow out the candles on a cake celebrating Science North's 30th anniversary. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Dave Pearson and Guy Labine use a special device to blow out the candles on a cake celebrating Science North's 30th anniversary. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Sudbury's science centre opened June 19, 1984

Dave Pearson said he had his fingers crossed June 19, 1984, when Science North opened its doors for the first time.


The snowflake-shaped science centre — now the second largest in Canada — had its naysayers, he said, with some calling it a “white elephant.”

“I remember the first person to buy a ticket with a $10 bill,” said Pearson, a Laurentian University geology professor and Science North's first science director, speaking at the science centre's 30th anniversary celebration June 19.


“I remember the moment, taking that $10 bill, because it was really a watershed. We had finally opened the place.”

Because the new science centre hadn't set up all of its exhibits yet, the directors filled the building with what's become known as “bluecoats” — or Science North's science educators.

The bluecoats have become an “enduring characteristic” of the science centre, which has also become known for its object theatres, special exhibit hall, cavern and IMAX theatre.

Its travelling exhibits and original IMAX films have become money-makers for the science centre.

Science North was created as part of the city's diversification efforts following some tough economic times, including the nine-month-long Inco strike, and a few years later, massive layoffs at the company.

Pearson said Inco kicked in $5 million as it tried to mend fences with the community.

Early in the science centre's development, there was some suggestion Science North should be a satellite location of the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.

“We said get lost,” Pearson said. “We'll do it our way. We will design experiences and we'll be different. We'll be just about as different as we can be.”

It was at the science centre's fifth anniversary celebration that Science North's former CEO, Jim Marchbank, rashly promised that by its 10th anniversary, Science North would have taken over the nearby Bell Grove Arena.

His vision did eventually come true, as the arena was turned into an IMAX theatre and special exhibits hall.

This summer, Science North will be issuing its 10 millionth ticket, said the science centre's current CEO, Guy Labine.

“We sell more than 340,000 admissions to our various attractions every year,” he said.

“Science North draws an estimated 85,000 people from outside of Northern Ontario, and these visitors generate an economic value of $19 million either directly or indirectly to the local community here in Greater Sudbury.”

The science centre has “achieved a great deal” over the last three decades, Labine said.

“We look ahead at our vision to be a leader among science centres, providing inspirational, educational, entertaining science experiences,” he said.

Weekend of celebration

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Science North has a number of special promotions and events this weekend.

From June 20-22, 30 per cent of paid admission to any Science North attraction will be donated to the Risto Laamenen Fund, which allows children to attend Science North camps, regardless of their family's financial situation.

Starting at 7 p.m. June 20, visitors ages 19 and over can take part in a special edition of Nightlife on the Rocks, the ongoing series of nights just for adults. It's filled with “hot topics, live experts and saavy science.”

On June 20-21, visitors can experience special retro-themed programming throughout the science centre.

The public is also invited to visit the Science North website and submit a photo from a past visit to Science North in exchange for a free general admission ticket to the science centre, valid June 20-22.

For more information, visit sciencenorth.ca/30.

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