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In December of 1901, the steel mill in Sydney, Nova Scotia, processed its first order of steel—but just a few years ago, all that was left of this historic plant was a heavily contaminated site and a lot of work to do. When the City of Sydney wanted to reclaim this heritage location and tie the community back together, we won the opportunity to design a shared recreational space that would honor Sydney’s past and enhance the lives of future generations.

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years

For nearly a century this was the site of one of North America’s largest steel mills. Now, it’s Open Hearth Park, a 125-acre reclamation achievement.

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population loss

Between the plant’s heyday in the 60s and its eventual closure in 2001, Sydney lost nearly 30% of its population. This park’s plan was designed to spur the revival of the community by encouraging new development.

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awards

Open Hearth Park received an Award of Excellence from the Connecticut chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a Regional Citation for Design from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.

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Before
After

Reclamation operation

When the steel mill and coke ovens closed down, the remnants included heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, and coal tar contaminants in three ponds which discharged into Sydney Harbour. Our job was to supply independent quality assurance services during the five-year, $400 million remediation program. This remediation cleared the way for what is now Open Hearth Park.

The value in slag

Open Hearth Park would have to be flat. That’s what we thought at first. Foundations couldn’t be placed below the cap material, and everything we planned had to respect the layered remediation system.

Landforms create visual interest, and a flat park wouldn’t be very interesting. We collaborated with the remediation specialists and structural engineers to reinforce some specific areas, and then we got creative.

By using the abundant local slag (a stony waste separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore), we created variation and opportunities for growth.

For example, we used slag landforms to introduce raised planting areas for deciduous and evergreen trees—creating space for root systems to expand and grow.

Plus we didn’t have to ship in other materials, so we saved on project costs. Since the slag we used didn’t have to be taken off site, we also reduced the project’s carbon footprint.

The new topography provides variety, interest, beauty, and supports a rich mosaic of native vegetation.

Open Hearth Park’s resilient landscape manages stormwater and provides an abundant natural wildlife habitat. With vegetated swales leading to Muggah Creek, stormwater is detained and then shepherded away from the remediated area.
Transcript of the video follows
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<p>Riding a bike through your local park should be relaxing. But who says it can’t also be inspiring and thought provoking?</p> <p>At the former Sydney Tar Ponds, our challenge was to transform an unusable space into a community amenity.</p> <p>We did that by rolling out four kilometres of multi-use path dotted with points of interest that serve and speak to the Sydney community.</p> <p>Salvaged steel mill relics from Sydney’s past mark the sides of the trail. From blocks of ore to old steel plant mechanisms, each piece says something about the industry that defined Sydney for a century.</p> <p>If you need a meeting spot or a pit stop, scattered benches and strategically placed gazebos are never too far away.</p> <p>When the winter months come around, park staff convert one area into a skating rink.</p> <p>And, if you’re lucky, the amphitheater might have a live performance featuring local players and works of Shakespeare.&nbsp; The open air performance space has featured headliners like Blue Rodeo and Aerosmith and one of the best rib festivals that you’ll ever find.</p> <p>If you’re out with some junior cyclists, you can always stop at the playground or concession to cool off and fill the tanks after visiting the young cyclists outdoor learning center.</p> <p>Every once in a while, you also get to share the trails with charity events like the Terry Fox Run.</p> <p>The park isn’t just one-sided, either. Multi-use bridges open up both shores of Muggah Creek for park goers to experience.</p> <p>The new, 125-acre park reconnects three neighborhoods, creates a wildlife habitat, and opens up a wide expanse of waterfront for visitors to enjoy, and it’s a pretty cool place for a bike ride.</p>

Celebrating history

From Indigenous peoples to generations of families whose lives were shaped by the steel plant, this site is steeped in community and history.

We could build soccer fields, trails, and amphitheaters all day long, but none of those could convey the work that went into expanding North American railroads or providing plate steel for supply ships during World War II.

So we called on local artists to tell the story. Ground art, informational art, educational displays, and iconic elements would be well-received, but the spirit of the story had to come from local stakeholders.

We developed a compendium of themes that we shared with the art community. Local artists submitted their interpretation of our ideas, and a local committee reviewed and selected pieces.

The result? Sculpture, mosaics, educational signage, and salvaged relics—all of which expressed our design themes, provided context, and celebrated a rich, proud history.

Hearth Warming

“#openhearthpark #sydney Great spot even when a bit chilly.”

@ElaineBarnes_PE

“Can’t wait to hit up #openhearthpark again for some good cardio, chest, and plyometrics.”

@NinaKentKwe

“Getting some vitamin D on my lunch break, courtesy of #openhearthpark! #lifeincb”

@allievmacd

“Once a waste site from the steel industry & now an amazing park for all. Well done Sydney. #physed #openhearthpark”

@cmacp73

“Can you say pumped #Aerosmith #Slash playing at #OpenHearthPark. This is beyond exciting. #Crazy”

@tiffanyratch

“These late night runs at the new park are pretty peaceful just me and a bunch of foxes #chill #cardio #openhearthpark”

@Talbot690

“If you are in Sydney tonight you should be at #openhearthpark for #strongerthansteel. What a place, what a heritage!”

@LkmMacLeod

“Biked through Sydney’s new park after work today. It is HUGE and AWESOME #OpenHearthPark #Sydney #CapeBreton”

@DaleFahey

We're better together

Our work begins at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. With a long-term commitment to the people and places we serve, we have the unique ability to connect to projects on a personal level and advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

Gary Sorge
Vice President, Community Development, Discipline Leader (Landscape Architecture)
Gary Sorge
Vice President, Community Development, Discipline Leader (Landscape Architecture)

We met our client’s goals, exceeded public expectations, and performed superbly across multiple disciplines and geographic areas to create a new community brand in a new public park.… Read More

Phillip Champagne
Landscape Architectural Designer
Phillip Champagne
Landscape Architectural Designer

Our development on Open Hearth Park was inspired by the community’s creative voice. The result? A park that represents the history and culture of the site.… Read More

Jennifer Gamble Waldron
Landscape Architect Designer
Jennifer Gamble Waldron
Landscape Architect Designer

It’s so rewarding to craft a public space where the community can enjoy beautiful parkland that highlights their history and supports an outdoor lifestyle.… Read More

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