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Open Hearth Park

Forging a community landmark that’s stronger than steel

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  • Sydney, Nova Scotia

    Sydney, Nova Scotia

This park’s plan was designed to spur the revival of the community by encouraging new development

In December of 1901, the steel mill 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.

When the steel mill and coke ovens closed, 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.

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 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.

From Indigenous peoples to generations of families whose lives were shaped by the steel plant, this site is steeped in community and history. So we called on local artists to tell the story. 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.

At a Glance

  • Sydney Tar Ponds Agency
Connecticut Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Award of Excellence
Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, Regional Citation for Design
New Jersey Chapter of ASLA Honor Award, Landscape Architectural Design: Site Design, 2017
Meet Our Team

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

Designing infrastructure with the ability to withstand natural and human impacts is an economic and social responsibility.
Gary Sorge Vice President, Community Development, Discipline Leader (Landscape Architecture) Read More

Phillip Champagne, Landscape Architect

Nothing is as rewarding as creating a public amenity, bringing the community’s vision to fruition and enhancing quality of life.

Peter Flower, Principal, Sector Leader - Transportation

Healthy economies need sustainable infrastructure. We provide planning and engineering solutions for local communities to thrive.
Peter Flower Principal, Sector Leader - Transportation Read More

John Heseltine, Senior Planner

With sound methodology and clear communication, you can overcome any obstacle –the more adaptable you are, the better the outcome will be.

Gary Sorge

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

Phillip Champagne

Landscape Architect

Peter Flower

Principal, Sector Leader - Transportation

John Heseltine

Senior Planner

Heart of the Community

From the start, Gary Sorge and his team knew that they were working on a project of particular significance. With thorough community engagement, they made sure their design would honor Sydney’s steel mill history.

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