History of waste management in Central Pontiac

Landfill at garbage collection center

First, some background, to indicate this is a long-time abiding interest for me. The only time I remember my father getting injured is when he was fishing for a treasure at the smouldering garbage dump outside my hometown of Calhoun, KY. He had seen a metal handle sticking up and ventured out into the trash to retrieve it. His foot went through thesurface to the hot embers below and was burned. But he managed to snatch the prize, which turned out to be an entire Erector Set. My oldest brother got a set for Christmas, and with this addition, he could make a working model of nearly any machine.

Later, a man named Harlon E. Hicks lived in a trailer beside the dump, and he was our contact for discarded roller skates, which we bought from him for 50¢ and attempted to build skateboards, seen on tv but unavailable locally.

Years later, when I lived near Barrie, ON, we would go to the local dump. Trucks from the vegetable warehouses at the Bradford Marsh would dump a truckload of three-legged carrots or misshapen potatoes, which could not be legally sold in Ontario. We would fill our repurposed school bus with all the free food we could carry. Later, rules were imposed so we were forbidden to snatch the food because the owners would rather have it go to waste than feed long-haired scavengers.

When I and my pregnant wife arrived in Pontiac, community dumps were still random-access pits, stirred and kept burning by an attendant. Still, it was occasionally possible to snag a treat, such as the time we brought home a skidder tire to make a kids’ sandbox. My interest in trash-snatching has scarcely waned over the passing years.

Some years later, there was a plan afoot to create a huge landfill at the Hilton Iron Mine. This was before composting or recycling were notions. There was wide and deep resistance, for reasons of potential damage to the environment, roads and water table. One local newspaper championed the idea for the economic prosperity it was sure to bring, while my brother was the editor of the other paper. The Municipality of Pontiac attempted to annex the property, so as to recoup the rewards, but Jack Graham, the mayor of Bristol, was steadfast in his opposition and he and the alarmed citizenry prevailed. The project was abandoned.

Forward a few decades, another plan for a mega dump emerged with a promoter in Danford Lake who had secured land beside the Picanoc River and readied to receive trash from the Outaouais and beyond. Again, citizens thought it unwise, and a BAPE hearing was called. I was among many who gave impassioned speeches before the committee, while members of the MRC argued it was our destiny to receive the garbage of the region. Oh, and all the jobs it would create, and all the seagull stew we could poach.

The BAPE commission rejected the plan, amidst promises that citizens would reduce garbage production, making the Mega Dump unnecessary.

We’re now at the crossroads of another scheme to get rich from dealing with other people’s trash, this time with a huge and expensive incinerator.

For similar reasons to the previous schemes, it’s unpopular with many. I really hope the promoters will see the folly of these schemes to import garbage and let that dead horse be buried with dignity. I also hope that this time, people will follow through with intentions of reducing their waste output, making such big plans obsolete. Maybe we can all stop buying things we don’t want, and ruinously throwing away things other people could use. Otherwise, we’ll be going through this whole frustrating process again in a decade. History doesn’t actually repeat, but it does rhyme.

Robert Wills