CAPE FORCHU, N.S. - Drivers en route to one of the region’s most notable icons might notice something missing that’s on practically every other road in the tri-counties: garbage.
The absence of litter is due in great part to a small but mighty threesome – the Litter Ladies of Cape Forchu.
Over the past year, Gert Sweeney, Molly Riddell and Jayne LeBlanc have collected 500 bags of garbage between the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and the Cape Forchu lighthouse.
The women are not paid for the hundreds of hours they spend patrolling the shoreline and ditches for wash-ups and throwaways.
Sweeney says other family members also help them with the cleanups. She’s been collecting garbage here for 30 years.
She points to the bottom half of a sign on a post at Yarmouth Bar. The words “$250 fine” remain, but the “No Littering” part has been ripped off the top and tossed.
“Even though we’ve asked to have it replaced, it’s not the number-one priority,” she says.
She also draws attention to the Yarmouth Bar dumpsters opposite the wharves. Some of them are overflowing.
“Visitors look at the dumpster and say fishermen are dirty. Fishermen do cause some of the problems, but the majority of the problem here at the Bar is people who come from town bringing their garbage and dumping it. There’s abuse of the system,” she said.
LeBlanc says she feels blessed by the guys (fishermen) at the Yarmouth Bar.
“They’re amazing. They’ll see me walking with a garbage bag and ask if they can put a cup in it,” she says.
She’s noticed a change in attitude at the wharves over the past few years.
“Fishermen say they like coming to work now because it looks good and gives them a sense of pride. There was so much garbage. I know that overwhelming feeling… so if I felt that way, why wouldn’t they feel that way? They were raised to do what they were doing and no one ever showed them differently,” she says.
In one area where littering was particularly bad – the Tom & Jerry cul-de-sac – a camera was mounted.
“We had found all kinds of meth pipes and drug paraphernalia. It was just a druggie hangout. They’d eat and leave the bags there. We cleaned it all out and Waste Check put a camera there. We haven’t had any garbage there in eight months,” says LeBlanc.
One of her pet peeves is what she refers to as the “glass grubbers.”
“They’ll rape the beach for what they want but they’ll pick up a piece of garbage and toss it aside instead of putting it in a bag.”
She believes the answer to littering may be leading by example and adds that it helps that she’s stubborn.
“I still hope to be doing this when I’m 80. I had a little old couple in their 80s, 90s, stop to talk to me. And they said thank you. The lady said, ‘You know, we used to come here when we were young, but then we stopped because it got dirty.’ Now we’re coming back,” LeBlanc says. “When you get things like that, it gives you a boost.”
“I treat every single day like Earth Day. And every time I pick up a bag, I say, ‘You’re not going in the ocean tonight.’ That’s what keeps me going.”