The mall that almost wasn’t

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It took just over two years to turn Cambrian Mall from idea to building

It is said that the wheels of justice grind slowly. The same could certainly be said about trying to build a mall in Sault Ste. Marie.

In 1980 initial plans began to expand the Sentry Discount Store and connect it to Canadian Tire at the corner of McNabb and Great Northern Roads, with 30 to 40 new stores and 250,000 square feet of new retail space connecting the two anchor stores. The end result of these ambitious plans was the Cambrian Mall, Soo’s second major mall. . . Ultimately!

The road between the planning phases and the realization of these plans proved to be a long and arduous one.

In September 1980, Burnac Corporation first put together a plan to build the new mall. But it took over a year for the company to even hold a hearing at the Sault Ste. Marie Area Planning Committee. Because of the size of the project, city planners were reluctant to move too quickly. Burnac first had to pay $20,000 to a private firm in early 1981 to conduct a study to answer the planning team’s questions about the city’s impact of a major new mall.

The study concluded that Soo’s economic conditions were suitable for a second large mall.

Burnac hoped that the results of this study would be enough to persuade the planning authority to approve a rezoning application for construction. But the development still met staunch opposition from the Queenstown Downtown Merchants Association, who feared a new mall would lure shoppers away from downtown shops and thwart city planners’ downtown concept.

Residents in the McNabb and Great Northern area also had concerns about how a new mall could negatively impact their lives and property. Burnac, on the other hand, argued that the new mall would be a boon to the city as it would create 345 new jobs and bring $330,000 in business and revenue to the city each year.

With that the battle lines were drawn. On June 15, 1981, attorneys and marketers from both sides gathered at City Hall and city council members heard various arguments for and against a new mall. City councillors, faced with conflicting statements from various experts about the impact a new mall would have on the city and other shop owners, were faced with a difficult decision. But in the end they voted 8-2 to approve the Burnac planning application. However, that was not the end of the debate. The Queenstown Association filed a letter of objection, which meant a hearing by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) had to be held before the plans could go ahead.

Burnac Corporation had to wait several months before even getting an OMB hearing date. In March 1982, however, the Queenstown Association withdrew its objection, and by that time a settlement that would address the concerns of residents near the new shopping center was also nearing completion. Construction began in late 1982, with a tentative opening date for fall 1983. Things should have gone smoothly from there. Except that it wasn’t.

Originally planned as one of the new mall’s flagship stores, Sentry eventually closed in November 1983. As a replacement, the mall developers were able to construct a second Zellers store to anchor the north end of the mall. but this major change delayed the planned opening. Burnac also decided that a spring opening might be more economically advantageous. The opening date originally set for October 26 has been postponed by five months. March 21, 1984 was set as the new opening date.

Okay, so you say the Cambrian Mall opened on March 21, 1984? No, it didn’t. Zellers was not quite ready for the opening at this point. Not wanting to open the new mall without its flagship store, Burnac pushed back the opening date another week to March 28 so the Zellers would open at the same time as the rest of the mall.

But it turns out Zellers still wouldn’t be ready to open on March 28th. The opening date has been pushed back to April 11thth1984

This time the opening date stuck and Cambrian Mall officially opened its doors on Wednesday April 11thth, 1984 at 9:30 p.m. From planning to completion, the project took a good four years. And even after the new mall opened, there were some growing pains. Business owners on Great Northern Avenue and local residents complained about traffic congestion in the area as eager shoppers flocked to tour the new mall. A weary homeowner nearby, tired of struggling with traffic jams every day to get home, even wrote a letter to the Sault Star editor asking people not to come to the new mall . Of course, the newness of a new mall eventually wore off, and traffic in the area calmed down as the number of daily visitors to the Cambrian Mall normalized.

The Cambrian Mall has evolved over the years. The grocery store has changed hands several times, from Loblaws to Carlucci’s to No Frills to Rome’s. Zellers has closed, other smaller shops have come and gone, and the mall itself has changed hands twice, most recently in 2021.

The Cambrian Mall celebrates its 38th anniversaryth anniversary this year.

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