The Haliburton Dump, a stinking pile of professionalism

Our latest column from William Thomas

I remember vacationing in Haliburton, Ontario as a young boy and every Saturday night we’d pile into the car to watch bears eat their way through the town dump. Other carloads of people would be gathered there as well, with headlights trained on three, sometimes a family of five black bears slowly grazing away at the dump’s evening buffet of rotting garbage. Occasionally the bears would cast curious looks our way, like surely we had better things to do. But we didn’t. It was like watching a live animal act at a drive-in theatre in which the bears were woefully untalented. Or a taping of a really slow episode of The Wild Kingdom.

Today the Halliburton dump just outside of town is still a thing of beauty. As you enter, computers are neatly stacked to the right ready for the ride to the recycle plant; row upon row of appliances lined up to the left, waiting for Haliburton’s handymen.

There’s a special covered area for good, usable furniture while audio equipment and other electronic devices are tastefully displayed near the shack at the entrance. The dump master, a big, friendly man with red hair and a ruddy complexion can tell you what stuff still works and where you might find certain items like a steel chain or a barrel that could become a fire pit.

My brother-in-law Danny spotted a great ol’ English style bicycle which we threw in the back of my car on the way out.

Later, over a beer, we figured out that because the bike was in near perfect condition and parked near the entrance shack that it probably belonged to one of the dump’s employees. I’m not saying theft does not happen at the Haliburton dump. I’m just pointing out that it was Danny who stole the bike.

The last time I visited the Haliburton dump there was a kid, a real keener supervising the recycle area.

Having just emptied a box of plastic, cans and bottles into the appropriate dumpster, I was crossing the mud path to the cardboard container when the kid cut in front of me. Running and yelling “No! No!” he lept into the container of cardboard to retrieve a box full of newspapers.

“Geez. I’m sorry,” said the man who had thrown the box in.

“That’s okay,” said the kid, throwing the empty box into the container clearly marked “Cardboard” and stomping off with the newspapers under his arm. “But you gotta pay attention to the signs.”

I looked at the guy and laughed but he didn’t. He really felt bad about having contaminated the cardboard container. I drove further down the red dirt road and stopped in front of a large sign, with an arrow pointing left: “Garbage Here.” I had heaved two small shopping bags of garbage over the sign when I heard him coming for me.

“No! No!” said the kid, out of breath from his run from the newspaper container to the piles of

stinking garbage.

“Not there,” he said, pointing over the sign to where my bags had landed. “There,” he said, pointing to the left, the same direction as the arrow was pointing.

I flung the big green garbage bag to the left of the sign as instructed but I’d kind of had it with the keener. Trying unsuccessfully to disguise my smart-ass tone I said: “Boy it’s a good thing you were here. I might had made a mess of this place. Gotta keep it neat, eh?”

And he turned slowly to face me, said nothing and turned away, surveying the acres of refuse like it was Lake Louise at sunset.

“You know,” he said, turning to face me again, “just because it’s a landfill site doesn’t mean it has to look like a dump.”

The smirk on my face subsided rather quickly. I blinked a few times taking in the depth of his words. Oh yeah, I’d been told.

My hat goes off to the keener, the lord of the landfill, the curator of the Haliburton dump. (And that hat better land to the left of that sign, or else!)

Adequately chastened, I remembered the words of Martin Luther King, words I truly believed in but whose meaning I had let lapse.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did this job well.”

To the kid who takes great care of the dump in Haliburton I say – well done son, so very well done. And Danny? My brother-in-law? I think he’s got your bike.

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