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.
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.
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.
“#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
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