Bike park remembers work of Sydney brothers

Cape Breton Post
Nov 22, 2013

SYDNEY - Family and friends gathered at Open Hearth Park's new bike facility Friday as the area was dedicated to the work of two community activists, Ron and Don DeLeskie

The twin brothers helped lead the charge in the 1990s to have the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites cleaned up. They were both permanent fixtures at nearly every community meeting on the topic of how the cleanup should proceed. However, they didn't get to see the finished product - Ron died in 2003 and Don died in 2008.

"Some people thought it might be a sad occasion but it wasn't. It was really a proud occasion to see that they were recognized for what they did so many years ago," said the DeLeskie's oldest sister, Mary Jane Jessome. "That was their goal to get that tar ponds cleaned up. They weren't there in body but their spirit was definitely with us especially with so many people talking about what they did and it brought back so many memories of the many meetings they went to."

The Don and Ron DeLeskie Bike Park includes a safety course, which features traffic conditions that cyclists may encounter on public roads including stop and yield signs. The bike safety course includes training in the safe and appropriate operation of bicycles on public streets. It's located in the section of Open Hearth Park north of Ferry Street. It also includes walking and biking trails, a skating area and outdoor amphitheatre. An off-leash dog park, which hasn't opened yet, is located across the street.

Open Hearth Park was officially opened on Labour Day weekend. It sits on the former site of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens. It also features multi-use sports fields, artificial turf field, children's playground and splash-pad area, and stationary exercise equipment.

A friend of Elsie DeLeskie, Don's widow, Ann Wolodka said she's happy the dedication of the DeLeskie's plaque was in the approximate spot where Don DeLeskie scooped up gooey tar as part of his own clean up 14 years ago.

That action caught national media attention and eventually led to a federal-provincial agreement in 2004 to permanently clean up the toxic soup of cancer-causing chemicals. "He fought all those years and I wish he was alive to see what it is today," Wolodka said. "It was so heartwarming and uplifting. It was a happy, yet sad occasion, and I wish they were there to see it."

Approximately 70 people turned out for the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Friday. Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan joined the DeLeskie family to officially unveil the sign. "I subscribe to the notion that the DeLeskies and some of the advocates that worked with Ron and Don were instrumental in kick-starting that, getting the government serious about it and really buying into the fact that this thing had to be cleaned up," he said.

The $400 million cost-share agreement to clean up the tar ponds and coke ovens took a period of 10 years to complete. The cleanup project was completed ahead of schedule and within budget, said MacLellan.

The project formally wraps up on March 31.