|Alan Roy pulls trash from the creek in Colonel Sam Smith Park. Roy is organizing his 11th annual spring cleanup at the park this Sunday, April 27. All are welcome to pitch in, to make the area safe for kids, pets, and wildlife.|
Roy vividly recalled a morning 20 years ago when he was walking his dog in Glen Stewart ravine off Kingston Road in the Beach.
“It looked like something had been murdered there. There was so much blood,” he said. “The girl carried her 60-pound retriever out of the park. Its name was Jinx. It had an awful cut to its pad from broken glass in the stream. The vet said she was lucky she got it there so fast.”
Jinx’s near-fatal cut compelled Roy to organize a community cleanup in Glen Stewart ravine in 1993.
“I was the first in the city to organize a local park cleanup,” he said.
Roy moved to the Lakeshore area of south Etobicoke in 2000 where he soon took environmental ownership of his local park.
This Sunday, Roy leads his 11th annual community cleanup from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Colonel Samuel Smith Park, an extensive naturalized waterfront park at the foot of Kipling Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard West.
The wooded shoreline is home to an array of migratory birds, wildlife, plants and trees, a beach and in recent years, the city’s only ice skating trail. Its diversity and quality of habitats has earned it a reputation as one of the premier birding locations in the city.
Cleanup volunteers meet this Sunday on the path east of the marina.
Bring boots, gloves, rakes and shovels. Pack a picnic lunch. Garbage bags, water and snacks will be provided.
“I love it,” Roy said of his environmental leadership. “It has gone from me being in it getting my hands dirty to me being there talking to people and extolling the virtues of cleaning up the park. I’ve made tremendous friends. Barbara Keaveney tells me, ‘I’ve got the registration table for an hour or two. You go.’ They know how much I love to get in there.”
Keaveney is with Citizens Concerned About the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront (CCFEW), a group that regularly supports Roy’s cleanup.
Often, it’s CCFEW President Brian Bailey who helps Roy wrestle with unearthing larger refuse left abandoned in the park.
“We pulled couches out of the sand dune that were almost buried completely. It was a big year when we got that out. We’ve pulled picnic tables out of the muckiest, boggiest mud,” he said.
His weapon of choice? A five-tonne hand winch and chain that Roy attaches to a tree for leverage: “We can pull something in excess of 500 pounds out with the winch.”
Last year, he found a battered up canoe. One of his favourite finds is a conch shell he found on the rocks.
In 21 years, Roy said his park cleanups even unearthed stolen items. One year, Roy found the art portfolio of the wife of well-known Toronto daily cartoonist Andy Donato in Glen Stewart ravine when he was a Beach resident.
Roy also helps a friend with his annual park cleanup in Oakville.
“We’ve towed tractor tires full of silt that weigh about 450 pounds. Really that’s my satisfaction. It’s no longer in nature.”
Friends of Sam Smith, as well as area residents, also come out annually to participate in the Etobicoke park’s rejuvenation.
Roy said the annual Colonel Samuel Smith Park cleanup has made a difference.
“It has improved year over year. A number of people return each year. We seem to be encountering a lessening amount of garbage. People seem to appreciate nature and the park more. If they see someone throw garbage, they take ownership. They approach the person or they pick it up.”
With exposure, Roy said he expects those who litter and dump will eventually become environmentally conscious.
“Any number of people say that park is where they take their dog for a walk or take their kids. I’m saddened to know people come in to the park and throw stuff out their car windows. That hurts. But with exposure and time, they’ll come around and understand the natural pleasure of that park. It’s a real hidden gem.”