Stronger than Steel celebration begins

Cape Breton Post
By Laura Jean Grant
Aug. 30, 2013

SYDNEY - Where a steel plant once stood as the economic hub of a city, an expansive park and green space that now connects the north end of Sydney and Whitney Pier was officially unveiled Friday night

As kids tested out a new playground and families explored the new grounds, local residents, government representatives, and project officials came together to celebrate the historic opening of Open Hearth Park.

It was the first event of a three-day celebration, titled Stronger than Steel. "This is indeed a night of celebration," said Alastair MacLeod, longtime chair of the Citizens Liason Committee that represented the local community in the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens cleanup project. He said that as the park has taken shape in recent months he's been struck by the beauty of the site. "I am starting to think of its similarity to Central Park in New York. Once the 2,000 trees that have been planted mature, it'll be even more so, and I expect we the citizens of Sydney will enjoy this place just as much as New Yorkers have done so for over 100 years," he said. Reflecting on the overall remediation project, MacLeod commented that one of the most important aspects of it is the "legacy of co-operation" that has been forged in the local community, among business, government, and area residents. "I believe there is a renewed sense pride about our history. There is optimism about the present and there is new hope for the future," he said.

Federal Minister of Justice and Central Nova MP Peter MacKay had high praise for the $400 million remediation project, which was cost-shared by the federal and provincial governments. "I'm proud to say that this has been the most successful environmental remediation project ever undertaken in the history of Canada," he said. "The project, I'm also proud to say, is on budget and on schedule."

Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking, who has worked on the Sydney tar ponds file since he was first elected 12 years ago, said it's been a long journey and one that required the co-operation of all levels of government and the patience of the community. "Wow, what an evening, what a weekend," he said, looking out on the park. "Enjoy the park, enjoy the camaraderie, enjoy the entertainment. You guys deserve it, it's your park."

Provincial Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and Antigonish MLA Maurice Smith was also on hand for the opening ceremonies. "I'm very pleased to join you tonight on behalf of the province. It's also a great privilege to join you as a proud Cape Bretoner," he said. "As a son of steelworker, I have a special appreciation for the significance of this weekend and how important it is for us to come together as a community to remember how we started and how far we have come."

A ceremonial land transfer agreement of the Open Hearth Park property, from the federal government to the province of Nova Scotia, was signed by MacKay, Smith and other officials to conclude the opening festivities. "This signifies a new chapter for the community of Sydney. It reflects the commitment that was made at the very beginning of this project between the government of Canada, the province of Nova Scotia and the people of this community to return this area to safe and usable space," said MacKay.

Michelle Gallivan, a resident of Sydney, was among the hundreds of people who attended the opening, despite intermittent rain showers and windy conditions. She was there with her two children, who she said have been talking about the park opening all week. "We've spoke a lot about it and watched the changes, so they were really excited," she said. "It's awesome. I love it. I love the walk (paths) and the playground for the kids is wonderful."

Following the official opening ceremonies, there were film screenings of "Heart of Steel" and "Are you from the Pier Dear?" and local band Coig performed in the licensed tent.

Stronger than Steel celebrations continue today and Sunday.