As you get off the Ashland bus at Canal Origins Park, you might wonder “Where am I?”
Looking to the west, you will see the sprawling Chicago Sun-Times printing plant. It is silent outside, except for the movement of trunks in and out of this facility. You will not lack for noise, as Ashland Avenue is a buzz with activity all times of day. Regrettably, most people do not stop to examine the wonderful curiosities of this most wonderful slice of park hard on the banks of the South Branch of the Chicago River.
It’s worth mentioning that most folks with an eye towards Chicago history know this slow moving body of water as “Bubbly Creek”. No, it is not because of fizzy soda water that it received this name, but rather because of the slowly decaying animal corpses from the nearby stockyards. The stockyards are gone, but the decay continues. It is part of the charm here. Look closely and you’ll see a bubble or two.
Equally impressive is the brilliant artwork that lines the path in the direction of the water. Created by Phil Schuster, the work portrays different moments in the city’s past. You can find moments of industrial history, neighborhood pride, and local flora and fauna. It’s a fine visual accompaniment for such surroundings.
And what of these “origins” you ask? Well, the park represents the starting point of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This pathway, this O’Hare of its time, was opened in 1848 and it represents the ability of man to transform the landscape into a reliable pathway for commerce, culture, and conversation. It is the last fragment of this noble creation, so take a moment to ponder its significance.
PLAN A VISIT
Some might say that the best time to visit Canal Origins Park is at the height of summer, as the surrounding native wildflowers are blooming about you. I’d suggest a visit in the depths of winter. Feel the chill, wander the pathways and consider the experiences of those who journeyed this remote corner of the Northwest Territory over 150 years ago. Whenever you visit, round out your trip to the Bridgeport neighborhood with a stop at The Duck Inn just on the other side of the river or Nana, another local favorite.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique place for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned for more entries!
Photos: Canal Origins Park credit Chicago Park District