Tornado clean-up crew tackles swamp

DUNROBIN – It was going to be a long day of picking tornado debris out of the least accessible part of the neighbourhood, but volunteers got one gift for their day of work – wind.

About 20 volunteers started the day (more arrived throughout) at the Dunrobin swamp off the south side of Thomas A. Dolan Parkway near Dunrobin Road. Lucky for those volunteers, the weather was spectacular including a strong breeze that kept the expected masses of biting insects to a minimum.

 The swamp had everything else though – muck, boot-sucking mud, deep water, sink holes, long grass, weeds, rocks, mounds – truly only accessible by foot. And as of last fall, it also has a lot of tornado debris.

Because of that, volunteer organizer Ruth Sirman put the call out for help early and often to clean up a highly visible piece of property and many of the regulars answered the call on Saturday, June 22.

“This is the worst of the worst,” Sirman told West Carleton Online from the side of the road Saturday morning.

The first challenge was finding the owner. She wasn’t hiding, the land has no civic address and is uninhabited. Sirman won’t go on to land without permission. Sirman did somehow track the owner down who was more than happy to have volunteer help and even brought coffee and donuts for the crew to start their morning with.

This work would be done by hand, with limited access and a couple of ATVs and trailers on hand. The team split in two, with one group starting right off the side of Thomas A. Dolan and the other grew working from behind the storage facility. The volunteers, made up of all ages, would work towards each other.

“We’ve already found stuff that survived the winter,” Sirman said.

Even an ornamental sign they assume came from the Heart and Soul Gift Shop.

 “There’s debris from the storage units, Heart and Soul, the strip mall, the homes along Thomas Dolan. There’s no shortage of contributors. Life is not normal in this community yet. Far from it.”

That is why the clean-up work is so important. The swamp debris has been a constant visual reminder of the tornado and the work that’s still left to do for the hundreds of drivers who travel by each and every day. The volunteers hope to find more than just debris though.

“I’ve had so many people say, I hope we find something we can return,” Sirman said.

Today’s crew of volunteers make up some of the regulars West Carleton Online always sees when covering the fallout from the disaster (a ‘tornado’ search on our website turns up pages and pages of stories) and as always, a few new faces.

Elders Gordon and Leterme are new to West Carleton Online, but not to West Carleton disaster relief. The two are Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints missionaries and are in the swamp today. Leterme, from France, has spent six months volunteering his time while Gordon, from Seattle, is at the three-month mark.

Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints missionaries, from left, Elder Gordon and Elder Leterme. Photo by Jake Davies
Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints missionaries, from left, Elder Gordon and Elder Leterme. Photo by Jake Davies

The church has put them up in an apartment in Nepean and the two head out to West Carleton every day.

“We serve people and spread the word,” Gordon said.

One volunteer points out his new ATV trailer is thanks in part to an insurance claim when his old one was destroyed by the tornado.

“There’s some things in the swamp I don’t think will ever come out,” regular volunteer Kim Wood told West Carleton Online. “This is one of the community eye-sores that people see when they drive by.”

Sirman caught up with West Carleton Online Monday (June 24) night to update us on the day’s work.

“We took out enough debris to more than half fill both dumpsters,” she said. “The day went really well – we got most of the area along Thomas Dolan cleaned up and a good portion of the back end of the property, behind the storage units. Another go at it coming up on June 29 at this point. So, we could use another team. We’ve got some momentum and it would be good to finish it. There is a community update meeting on June 27. We will have the recovered Items at that for people to see. Brian MacGregor from Brown’s Cleaners is cleaning the items we’ve found over the past couple of weekends.”