French explorers came to the area in the early 1600s. They followed the lead of Etienne Brule who came up the Ottawa, and over the French River into Lake Huron. Soon after, in 1615, Samuel de Champlain, the French commander of New France, himself visited the area for the purpose of trading for furs.
In 1849, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up a post at Lake Nipissing, but the post was not competitive and not a commercial success. It was closed in 1879. By 1850, however, the region became very busy with lumbering and mining activity, and the British government signed a treaty with the area’s Huron Indians.
From 1881 until 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway worked to build the railway across the North, and the first train arrived in Sudbury in late 1883. The town became the railway’s regional headquarters. Two years later, the railway moved its headquarters and proceeded to subdivide the land around its station and sell house lots.
In 1886, the mine at Copper Cliff became operational. In 1900 new methods for refining nickel were invented, and nickel became important in strengthening steel armour for military ships. This led to the expansion of nickel mining in the area. The town boomed during the First World War, as demand soared. After the Armistice of 1918, demand for nickel fell off but recovered after 1924. In 1933 the Inco mine at Creighton and the Coniston smelter opened. Second World War Sudbury-area nickel production (in the six years) exceed the total for the preceding fifty years.
After the Second World War, the US government began to stockpile nickel, to diversify its supply of non-communist nickel. Falconbridge was the chief beneficiary of this policy and grew significantly. In the 1950s and 60s, global competition as well as labour unrest had a significant impact on the Sudbury mines.
As well, environmental concerns were raised about the sulfur dioxide emissions from the smelting process. This so damaged the local landscape that NASA astronauts rehearsed their lunar landings in the area. These concerns led to the construction of the Superstack in 1972, which dispersed the smelter’s emissions into the jet stream.