Ex-pat gives her verdict on Sunderland after returning home after four decades in Canada

Sue Topley
Sue Topley
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Ex-pat Sue Topley has had an eyeful of Sunderland.

Sue swapped Sunderland for Canada in 1979 and though she has been back briefly over the years, is making the most of a family wedding to catch up on everything that has changed.

The Propellers of the City sculpture was a particular hit

The Propellers of the City sculpture was a particular hit

Echo photographer Stu Norton joined her for a whistlestop tour of the city centre on what she believes will be her last visit home.

“It was absolutely wonderful - I felt like it was 50 years ago,” said Sue.

“I’m 67 and I felt every day of it this morning but it was brilliant.”

Sue originally moved to Sarnai in Ontario in 1979 because work for her then-husband was drying up: “My husband worked for British Telecom back then and he went down to a four-day week.

Visiting the former Vaux brewery site

Visiting the former Vaux brewery site

“My brother was out in Canada and he said we should go out,” she said.

“I came back in 2000, but I was living in Oxford then. I came home briefly but I certainly did not get a chance to see everything that had changed.”

After two years, Sue realised she was missing out on her family in Canada.

“I have two children, they are both out there. Their lives are there. My son is a helmsman on a boat on the lake and my daughter works for a recruitment agency,” she said.

Sue Topley is back in Sunderland almost 40 years after emigrating to Canada

Sue Topley is back in Sunderland almost 40 years after emigrating to Canada

“When I split from my first husband I moved back, but I was watching my grand-daughter grow up on webcam.”

She broke the news to her then-boyfriend, now husband: “I said to Steve; ‘I have got to go back.’

“He followed me out there for a holiday then decided he was going to come back to stay.”

This is Sue’s first return to Wearside apart from a brief school reunion trip three years ago. She has been overwhelmed by how much the city has in which she grew up has changed.

Sue in the new-look High Street West

Sue in the new-look High Street West

“I could not believe it,” she said.

“There have been so many changes - Vaux is gone, High Street has opened up. Everywhere I used to go is gone.”

Yet Sue believes much of the change has been for the best and is particularly impressed with the new Keel Square.

“It is absolutely lovely,” she said.

The Propellers of the City sculpture, with pays tribute to the generations of workers who made Sunderland the world centre of ship-building, is a real hit.

“What they have done with the people who used to work in the shipyards, I thought that was a great idea.

Sue outside The Old Fire Station

Sue outside The Old Fire Station

“Whoever thought of that was absolutely brilliant.”

She has also been delighted with the Angel of the North and Seaham’s Tommy statue and is pleased to see new life being breathed into the Old Fire Station in High Street West.

But for Sue, the most impressive addition to the Wearside skyline is the New Wear Crossing and its colossal central pylon.

“It is beautiful,” she said.

“It is just lovely. When you drive down Pallion Road and see it on the right, that is amazing.

“I love the new bridge. I think it is the best thing that has happened while I’ve been away.

“I would love to cross it - but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Sue was hugely impressed by Seaham's Tommy statue

Sue was hugely impressed by Seaham's Tommy statue

Some things never change...

Some things never change...