community geographically remote from its home provinces
power and money base. Add an environment scarred by turn-of-the-century
industrial pollution and early logging practices, plus an economy
dependent on the whims of international supply and demand. The
end product was the regional municipality of Sudbury 25 years
ago. Located in the northern region of the province of Ontario,
240 miles from the provincial capital of Toronto, Sudbury seemed
an unlikely candidate to become an international tourist destination.
But times change, and today Sudbury is a center not only of
tourism but of education, government, medicine, and commerce
in northern Ontario. Even the regions landscape has been
transformed back to green, thanks to an innovative industry-
government partnership that saw the planting of its 2-millionth
tree seedling last year.
jewel of Sudburys hospitality industry is Science North,
a glistening stainless steel science center and Imax theater,
which overlooks a seven-mile expanse of fresh water lake and
trees as far as the eye can see.
Science Norths four attractions a science center,
Imax theater, and industrial bus tour now record close
to 455,000 admissions each year. This is a remarkable achievement
in a community of only 165,000 residents, but what is even more
remarkable is the story of how this community pulled together
to completely transform its image.
Founded in the 1800s, Sudbury sits on one of the worlds
largest known deposits of copper-nickel ore. Giant nickel producers
Inco Limited and Falconbridge Limited were founders of the local
economy, and they remain its cornerstones.
In 1977, a decline in world nickel markets prompted a drastic
downsizing at the mines. Thousands of jobs were lost that year
and in years to follow. It became clear that Sudbury could no
longer depend on the nickel market to keep its economy afloat.
In 1980, community leaders accepted a grand from Inco Limited
to complete a conceptual study of a science center for northern
Ontario. Capital donations soon followed.
In January 1981, Inco Limited committed $5 million (CND) the largest single corporate donation to a community project
in Canadian history. Falconbridge Limited was next with $1 million.
And in May 1981, the province of Ontario announced a $10 million
capital grant, paving the way for a start to construction.
Science North opened its doors June 19, 1984. Since then, more
than 2.2 million people have experienced the science centers
exhibits and programs. Science North attracts more than twice
the number of visitors of any other tourist attraction in northern
Ontario, and its popularity is growing thanks to the drawing
power of its new Imax theater.
Change is Vital
"Continuous change is vital to the success of our operation,"
says Science North chief executive officer Jim Marchbank. "Were
isolated from major urban centers. Our primary market, within
a two-hour driving distance of Sudbury, contains only 240,000
residents. That means we rely heavily on repeat visitation to
sustain our numbers outside the summer tourist season."
Drawing a loyal audience translates into a year-round program
of special events, guest speakers, new and improved exhibits,
and major attractions. All this takes money, and like cultural
institutions everywhere, Science North remains keenly aware
of its limited financial resources.
Science North operates with an annual budget of $7.5 million
and 75 full-time staff. Part-time staffing peaks at 200 for
the summer tourist trade, and operations are assisted year-round
by a team of 300 volunteers. Like its counterparts elsewhere
in the province of Ontario, Science North receives an annual
operating subsidy paid from provincial coffers. Economic realities,
however, are reducing government subsidies everywhere, and Science
North is not an exception.
"We have anticipated cutbacks in government spending,"
says Marchbank. "To prepare for this, weve been building
partnerships with the public and private sectors. Our continued
success hinges on capital investments that will generate operating
income to sustain us in the future."
It was with this promise in mind that Science North approached
the provincial government for funding to build northern Ontarios
first and only Imax theater. The science centers commitment
was twofold: first, that the theater would open on time for
Science Norths 10th anniversary, and second,
that it would become a profit center to support the attractions
On July 1, 1993, the province announced a #3.6 million grand
and loan package for the theaters total $5.5 million capital
cost. Science North, in turn, lived up to its commitment. Construction
began shortly after the funding announcement and was completed
for the science centers 10th birthday on June
19, 1994. Total time elapsed? Ten months- including four months
of a brutally cold Canadian winter.
The Science North Imax Theater premiered with The Dream is
Alive. By the theaters first anniversary, revenues had
surpassed the $1.25 million mark. A pre-opening peak attendance
forecast of 177,000 was easily met and exceeded. As of June
19, 1995, close to 190,000 people had attended the theater,
and science center officials are predicting even higher numbers
in its second year.
"We commissioned an independent survey of our immediate
market four months after the theaters opening," says
theater manager Chloe Gordon. "The results told us that
97 percent of Sudbury respondents were aware of the theater
and 89 percent plan to attend. Of respondents within a two-hour
drive to Sudbury, 79 percent said they planned to attend the
theater, but only 12 percent had actually done so.
"This means there is still a very large, very interested
market to draw from, and were working with community partners
to ensure that Sudbury enjoys the theaters full economic
Spread The Word
Community partnerships include marketing. Cooperative
agreements in the theaters first year netted $450,000
in free promotions on print, television, and radio. The theaters
lead corporate sponsor, with a $250,000 combined cash and service
donation, is MCTV, BBS Ontario Inc., northeastern Ontarios
regional television network.
"Were fortunate to enjoy the support of almost every
media outlet in northeastern Ontario," says Science North
marketing manager Leslie Stanford. "Were also working
with northern dairies, fast-food chains, and the regional office
of Pepsi Cola Canada Beverages to extend our marketing reach
through coupons and flyers.
"Were now concentrating on packaging the Imax experience
with Sudbury hotels and motels for our primary and secondary
markets. Our Rolling Stones: At the Max package, for
example, included overnight accommodations, dinner at the Science
North restaurant, admission to our science center, a daytime
Imax Film, and a ticket to At the Max."
Science North launched a successful $750,000 community fund-raising
campaign in October 1993 to match the theaters capital
cost. Donors ranged from corporations like MCTV to small businesses
and individuals who pledged funds in exchange for a plaque on
a theater seat or a hand print on the new lobby wall.
The result of this fund-raising effort is a 200-seat facility
with a higher than average audience-to-screen ratio. With an
Imax screen 72 feet wide by 53 feet high, every seat in the
Science North theater is the "best in the house."
Science North glassed its projection booth
to give audiences a firsthand look at the Imax projector. Attached
directly to the theater is a new main entrance and ticket sales
lobby, which serves both Imax film and science center customers.
Service includes a 12-hour-a-day telephone box office, which
generates a large proportion of ticket sales.
The new Imax theater also offered Science North a golden opportunity
to increase the centers self-generated operating revenues
by maximizing the potential of its food service division, consisting
of a cafeteria, restaurant, banquet facilities, and a new theater
With the introduction of Imax films during evening hours, science
center hours were extended from an eight-hour operation to 14
hours. To capitalize on the evening market, officials packaged
evening double bills with dinner at the centers restaurant.
In just one year, 6,000 Imax dinner packages were sold for gross
revenues of $180,000. Sales of virtually all dinner packages
are closed by telephone.
"The new Imax theater and the acquisition of our food
services division has increased our annual operating budget
form $5.4 million to more than $7.5 million," says Marchbank.
"This is a remarkable example of success through self-generated
revenue, and we will do even more."
Into the Future
Science North plans to add a motion simulator to its operations.
The center test marketed a mobile simulator during the March
school holiday of 1995 (The Big Frame, Summer 1995). Based on
this units enormous popularity 10,800 riders in
just nine days the science center predicts a permanent
simulator will generate a long-term source of additional revenue.
The center is continuing to work to strengthen its position as
a community focal point in Sudbury and as an educational resource
for all of northern Ontario, Marchbank notes.
The first is of benefit to both Science North and the community
at large," he says. "Were already the site of
local celebrations like Canada Day, New Years eve, and
an annual winter carnival. We offer family-oriented activities.
At the same time, we appeal to single adults through venues
like the Rolling Stones: At the Max and through our evening
Imax film and dinner packages."
As an education resource, Science North is mandated by its
provincial government to ensure that its programs and services
are accessible to all residents of northern Ontario. Science
North transports custom-designed exhibits and programs by road,
rail, and air to approximately 65,000 participants each year.
This achievement is more impressive given northern Ontarios
vast geography an area of 344,700 square miles for just
822,500 residents. By comparison, France has a population of
52 million residing in a country of only 210,000 square miles.
The science center continues to develop new education programs,
using Imax films as a springboard. In the fall of 1994, for
example, center staff created original science exhibits and
school programs based on the human performance theme of To
the Limit. This fall, staff will use the Imax film Beavers
to launch an extensive new exhibit area, which will include
live beavers and complementary habitat.