This is the story of a steel city gone bust.
Set in Sydney, and its gritty steel working neighbourhood of Whitney Pier, the story mainly features photographs from two separate bodies of work, shot some 10 years apart — in 2005 and 2014/15.
The project is intended to serve as a character tribute, as well as an historical marker, for a place where the forging of steel led to the forging of culture.
And more importantly, where the death of steel has put that culture at risk of disappearing forever.
Sydney, with a population of just over 30,000, is located on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on Canada's east coast. The entire region has suffered decades of economic downturn and the loss of integral industries, resulting in unemployment, poverty and out-migration.
And on the 100th anniversary of a culture born of steel making, a paradigm shift was set in motion by the inevitable closure of Sydney's steel plant in 2001.
Sydney's steel plant, fuelled by Cape Breton coal, brought a boom to the city and greater Cape Breton in the early 1900s.
Developments spurred the birth of a small, but historically significant steel working neighbourhood in Sydney named Whitney Pier — the namesake of steel plant founder, American businessman Henry M. Whitney. The Pier, a cultural melting pot, was built up around the steel plant to house a wave of early, immigrant workers, largely Eastern European and West Indian, that were needed to fill labour demands at the turn of the century.
The steel plant became famous for its world class steel rails, but notorious for its pollution — the trade-off for economic growth.
In the 1960s, private industry got cold feet and pulled the plug on Cape Breton steel and coal. Wary governments were forced to step in, absorbing and continuing operations in order to keep the industry-dependent island afloat.
The 80s ushered in an era of environmental controversy. Fear and discord built for more than two decades as concerns continued to be raised over post-industrial human health risks. Pollution, specifically from the steel plant's coke ovens' site, its runoff, and its settling pond aptly named The Sydney Tar Ponds, took centre stage in a polarizing debate that still lingers for a few today.
Amidst a sea of economic downturn, political turmoil, allegations of poor management and environmental pressure, government subsides to fund Sydney's steel plant were eventually severed in the late 90s. The plant closed its doors for good in 2001. Liquidation and demolition work began immediately.
In 2004, the federal government announced a 10-year, $400-million commitment to remediate the notoriously polluted, former Sydney steel plant site. 2014 saw the formal completion of the massive project — on time and on budget. The site is now the home of Open Hearth Park, a recreational green space for the greater community of Sydney.
Today, the region is still plagued with the symptoms of poor economics. Some cling to the idea that industry will eventually return as a saviour, while others condemn industry for the destruction left in its path. Uncertainty is the only thing left, for certain, and the question on everybody's minds is, what's next?