An old foundation in Happy Valley©Copyright: Yvan Charbonneau
The story of Happy Valley began innocently enough at the turn of the century when the last major surface nickel discoveries were done in the Sudbury Basin. However a few decades later, the name Happy Valley, in a twist of irony, became synonymous with the horrors of air pollution and corporate indifference that inevitably spelled its downfall.
In 1901 Thomas Edison arrived in the Sudbury area to scout for nickel properties. Edison ended up securing some options on a large trace of claims located on the far western end of Falconbridge Township. For two years the elderly, but still energetic Edison, crossed the claims and conducted dip needle surveys. Then in 1902 he attempted to sink a shaft on a ridge to explore the bedrock below. Unfortunately for Edison, his efforts were thwarted by too much overburden surrounding the shaft and the work was subsequently discontinued before he hit bedrock. Edison abandoned his option on the property the following year and returned to the United States.
In 1905, George Ruff arrived in the township and established a homestead in a gently sloping valley, just south of Edison's ridge. Although most of the township was swampy and unfit for cultivation, much of the prime timber lay untouched. A few pockets of arable land were eventually cleared and by 1911 the Ruff family was joined by two other families forming the entire population of 15 residents in the township. A small lumber mill began operations on a nearby lake and provided some additional employment for the farmers. The nearest school opened in nearby Garson Township in 1907, but children had to endure a long arduous three-mile walk. In 1912, the Ruff family was struck by tragedy when their child died. The burial took place in a family plot that later grew into a small community cemetery.
By 1915, the firm of E. J. Longyear drilled and confirmed a large ore body in the same place where Edison has attempted to sink his shaft. However no further work was conducted on the property. By the mid 1920's a few more families had arrived and several additional farms were established. By 1924 there were over 50 residents within the area. The valley was finally christened Spruce Valley, after the predominant tree species in the area.
In 1928 mining men returned in the township to explore the same territory as Edison, and E.J. Longyear. Later that same year, Ventures Limited formed a subsidiary called Falconbridge Mines Limited to acquire the property. By the end of the decade the Falconbridge mine was in production. Nearly 20 farmsteads were situated in Spruce Valley, south of the mine. In 1932 a school was finally opened in the new Falconbridge town site.
By the late 1930's a few Falconbridge miners, nearly a dozen in total, built their homes outside the company town site within the valley. During the same period the settlement changed its name to Happy Valley after a local resident named Hap 'Happy' Day. Subsistence farming continued to take place within Happy Valley until farmers became aware of one major problem.
In 1930, Falconbridge Mine Ltd. erected a smelter at the mine, and three years later, built a mill to process the ores. Within a few years poisonous sulphurous fumes began to affect the local farmland. Initially the farmers complained to Falconbridge Mines, and a compromise was struck. When the north wind swept the area, the smelter would be shut down until favourable winds returned. However by 1940, the war meant that the both the mine and smelter were producing at maximum capacity. Falconbridge had no choice but to renege the agreement with the farmers.
The farmers, still unconvinced, brought the issue to court. Their argument was simple. They argued the valley was settled before the mine and the smelter were built, and that the mining company should at least accommodate their demands. To their shock and dismay the judge disagreed with them. He stated that the claims and mineral exploration were undertaken before any settler had even set foot in the township. With heavy hearts the farmers had no further recourse. Gradually they left as the farmland became less productive. The miners however remained in the valley, and by the late 1940's well over 20 private home were established along two streets.
Falconbridge Mines continued to grow and enlarged its production several times over. The smelter fumes once again began to resurface as a problem, this time in the form of chronic pulmonary diseases. A number of valley residents had become susceptible to the stagnant sulphuric fumes emanating from the smelter. Under certain atmospheric conditions the smoke would simply spill into the valley and because of an overhead cold front, the fumes became trapped for days at the time within the valley. The phenomena, commonly known as temperature inversion, had become a very serious problem to the small population within the valley.
Complaints finally forced the government to take action and investigate the matter. The results proved to be far worse than predicted. Not only were the residents correct about the air quality, but the area proved to be heavily contaminated with heavy metals such as copper, nickel, and iron. The government ordered an evacuation of the site. To compensate the residents, Falconbridge bought up the homes and in exchange offered the residents town houses in the Falconbridge town site. Those who refused the homes, were offered financial compensation instead. Only one resident chose to remain, and managed quite well in the valley until he moved away in 1980's. Falconbridge promptly bought the house and levelled it to the ground.
Today Happy Valley is off limits and the two streets that once lined the 20 or so homes are no longer accessible by vehicle.