By Shane Dingman
When Peter Ustinov calls Toronto “a New York City run by the Swiss,” because of its cleanliness , he is paying a compliment to people like Ron Hayes. Hayes is a Toronto litter picker and he wears out two pairs of boots each year patrolling Queen Street between Roncesvalles and Dufferin streets. He makes $16 an hour and starts his eight-hour day at 6:30 a.m.
Each day he walks about five kilometers. A little multiplication reveals Hayes has lugged his bag and broom more than 1,300 km in the last five years. “I like what I’m doing now,” he says. “I’m not too ambitious, but it’s pretty repetitious stuff. I’m not tired of it. It’s just routine.” To maintain that perception, the Toronto City Works department has 132 litter pickers walking routes twice a day five days a week.
Cleanliness is a big reason people like Toronto. In a 1990 Toronto city planning survey, “cleanliness” was the second most “liked” thing by residents. Parks and green spaces ranked first.
However, people may not find the city so clean after Toronto is swallowed up by the Megacity.
“I think the Megacity means more work, fewer jobs, less workers, and nothing will be done right. You could have the creation of an American-like slum, like Harlem,” says Ross Carnovalie. He is a foreman at the city works yard on the corner of King and Dufferin.
Carnovalie’s office is an amiable place with rather good coffee spurting from a machine in the corner. It is also a place familiar with grim prophesying about the future.
Toronto the good may become Toronto the dirty. “If this keeps up, us not replacing anyone who retires or quits, no way will this city be able to keep itself clean in five-to-10 years,” says Carnovalie.
He has been the foreperson for 10 years. Before that, the Ryerson University Environmental Health graduate was a laborer and handyman for City Works. “Now I make more than a health inspector,” says the affable Carnovalie.
As foreman, his job is to act on any complaints operations receives, organize the day’s work deal with equipment upkeep, handle supplies and keep the books for his yard. “I gotta hear everyone’s problems and be diplomatic. It’s basically babysitting.”
Carnovalie answers to Gord Burrows. He is the street superintendent for City Works. Burrows’ main concern is running the operations section with more than 1,800 workers. The operations section is the hands and feet of City Works, keeping Toronto clean. In the winter, jobs include plowing and salting roads, cleaning sidewalks and shovelling out senior citizen driveways. Year-round activities include maintaining street signs, removal of graffiti from public places, litter picking and responding to specific complaints. It’s a lot of work and every year Burrows’ department is asked to more with less. “We’ve lost equipment and personnel through cutbacks and early retirements.” He started 31 years ago as a street picker and worked his way up. Now he organizes the resources of his department, deals with the public and city councillors, enforces discipline and other administrative duties. “My job is to patrol the routes too. I don’t just sit behind a desk and say ‘hello’ to people on the phone.”
In fact, one of Burrows’ least enjoyable but most time-consuming roles is as ear to the public. “Believe me, there are a lot of people out there who are chronic complainers,” says Burrows. “I’ve got this one down on Adelaide who calls up every week complaining about dandelions or dirt on his property or that his neighbor stinks and we have to give information and take action.”
There are many other people who could call if the city isn’t clean. The Greater Toronto area has the largest population in Canada. The heart of this region is the City of Toronto. About 2.3 million people live, work, and learn here and whenever that many people gather they are going to make a mess.
Burrows is candid about what he thinks is the City’s dirtiest area: China Town at Spadina and Dundas. “How they live, with all the vegetables and street vendors, in the morning it’s a disaster. We have to send out a pick-up crew just for that small area.” The Greek part of the Danforth between Jones and Logan, and the East-Indian neighborhoods along Gerrard and Coxwell are close runners-up for the dirtiest place in the city for similar reasons.
The single dirtiest day Burrows can remember was the aftermath of the Toronto Blue Jays first World Series win. “They tore this city apart,” says Burrows.
Anytime a major parade or event is planned, Burrows gets a call from City Hall to clean(sweep and wash) the street after. Most times an inspection is carried out to make sure there is nothing unexpected. “The Shriners had this parade along Queen Street. Well, when they unloaded their elephants on the Lakeshore they got a little excited,” Munroe is forced to stop and chuckle a minute before he can go on, “So we had to bring a truck up behind and clean up these huge piles of elephant doo-doo.”
Burrows remember another odd clean-up 20 years ago. He was called out to clean up a “dead cow” at Keele and St. Clair. “At the time they still had cattle out there, and apparently one had gotten loose,” Burrows chuckles as he recalls the shocked reaction of his crew at the sight of the animal. “Well somebody had shot it so we had to get a chain to drag it off with a truck. That was probably the oddest thing I’ve ever seen.”
City Council also calls operations in to deal with the mess made by any protestors, “If there is a demonstration, a bunch of people going down to see old Mike Harris, then we’re on site. And if it turns ugly, we’ll go in after they’re all done,” Burrows explains.
The Operations section has an annual budget in the neighborhood of $4 million (out of City Works’ $14 million), but sometimes Carnovalie feels like he doesn’t see any of it. “It’s been six years since the last raise, and I work lots of extra hours,” says Carnovalie. “We usually work through lunch and spend about an hour after each day tying up loose ends.” Carnovalie calls himself lucky though. He knows that if it wasn’t for the free work he gets from dedicated crews(who often work longer than required), his department would be far behind, “We’re keeping up—not the way we want to—with people putting 120 per cent effort into the cleanups.”