Painter Elizabeth Berry has a keen eye for the colours of Woodbine Beach – she walks to it nearly every morning from her home on Neville Park Boulevard.
But last week, walking the same shore where she once painted clean white surf and azure skies, the sight of a gull grubbing in a pile of picnic litter had Berry seeing just one colour – ketchup red.
Berry has had several moments like that since the morning after the Victoria Day fireworks. The litter is always worst in the early morning, she explained, before the city’s parks department sweeps the beach and then has staff pick up any remaining trash by hand.
On that particular morning, the trash was so thick that Berry finally answered a two-year-old dare from her friend and former Woodbine Beach Association president Ken Harvey to go ahead and paint the garbage.
“I remember marching home with anger and with sadness,” she said. “I got my paints, drove back here, found one of the clusters and then I just painted away.”
Despite hours of painting cigarette butts and fast-food litter in a chilly morning fog, Berry said she felt surprisingly happy.
Halfway through, she left a message on Harvey’s voicemail: “I’m here in the fog painting the garbage and oh, it’s really exciting!”
The result, a painting called Woodbine Beach Litter, made a splash in the Toronto Star and on CBC radio’s Metro Morning.
Here in the Beach, the painting has made its way onto some 75 T-shirts, thanks to a coffee-shop meeting with Berry, concerned residents and Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.
Berry said it was McMahon who came up with the T-shirt idea and, after canvassing a few residents in a local coffee shop, they got a fitting slogan: “Pick Me Up at the Beach.”
Walking along Woodbine Beach last week, several morning regulars saw Berry’s T-shirt and stopped to give their support.
Carri MacNeil took a moment before work to say she admired Berry’s painting for its spontaneity.
“This is our backyard, and anybody is welcome to come and share it,” she said. “But it’s a regular occurrence for people to come down and think it’s their trash can.”
MacNeil said most special events at Woodbine Beach, such as the volleyball tournaments, tend to be run by people who keep it clean.
Angela Miller, the Woodbine Beach foreperson for Parks, Forestry and Recreation, also stopped by to chat with Berry about her painting.
Miller said the garbage level is actually better in some places now than it was five years ago, when it was especially bad in the grassy areas towards Ashbridges Bay.
But the litter was worse in May and June, she said, because for those two months the city had bins on the boardwalk, but none on the beach itself.
The trouble is that garbage pick-up moved from the parks department to Solid Waste, and that department doesn’t have equipment to carry bins on and off the sand.
In the end, park staff agreed to handle the beach bins for July and August only, when they are at at their peak use.
Berry said the ‘Pick Me Uppers’ group is still in its early stages, but she hopes they can organize an awareness campaign for the next beach season.
After travelling to many faraway beaches to paint – including some in the UK, France and the Bahamas – Berry said she has seen a few beach-cleaning ideas that might work here.
On the Bahamas’ tiny Harbour Island, she said the town collects a stipend for a local bar owner who cleans the beach for a few hours a day. Someone with that sort of community support might get a better response when dealing with litterers than a bylaw officer or parks employee, she said.
Another idea is the ‘Take 3’ campaign started in Australia – a public ad campaign that simply asks people to pick up three pieces of litter every time they leave a beach or waterway.
For more information about the painting or the Pick Me Uppers, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.