Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup – More than just a cleanup!

Bridging, having fun, exercising leadership, making a difference and making an impact are the outcomes of our neighbourhood units’ participation in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

In 2009, as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (Shoreline Cleanup) and Ottawa’s Cleaning the Capital our small Pathfinder group (the 132nd Ottawa) cleaned Ottawa’s Arboretum Inlet. The next year, we invited the 8th Ottawa Brownies to join in. The girls loved the experience of data collection and we discovered that classifying litter IS something FUN to do!  Equally enjoyable is poking sticks in the river to retrieve cans, getting the occasional soaker, and finding the weirdest garbage. The 8th Ottawa Sparks joined the fun in 2011; the 131st Ottawa Guides joined the party in 2012, and even more Pathfinders in 2013.


By the time the Guides joined in 2012, several of the girls had already been participating in the Shoreline Cleanup as Brownies. This experience allowed them to take a leadership role in the cleanup. Now at each cleanup, Guides explain the purpose and the how-to of the cleanup to the younger participants and their families. This includes describing how individual teams of three to five participants complete the data form, what safety rules to keep in mind, and the distribution of supplies to participants. This leadership role counts towards their Community Service portion of their Lady Baden-Powell Challenge.

So how do you set up a neighbourhood cleanup? It’s easy! One person has to be the official coordinator for your cleanup with the Shoreline Cleanup. They sign up for the cleanup, choosing a site and date, on the Shoreline Cleanup website. You then invite Guiders from neighbourhood branches to take part. Unit Guiders are responsible to follow Safe Guide requirements for the site and bring proper ratios for their participants. If you organize a large cleanup having a dedicated First Aider and a floating Guider is a good idea. The Shoreline Cleanup has a waiver so you have to make sure it gets signed.

At the end of the cleanup a girl from each team shares what they’ve observed and identifies the strangest litter they found – this is always fun. Then the litter is weighed, garbage is disposed of properly, and recycling is taken home to recycle. We phone our city to collect whatever is too big for us to carry. (One year we found multiple computers and another year a house door in the water.)

Participation in the Shoreline Cleanup can be a springboard to lively discussion at the unit level. The effect of litter on aquatic ecosystems can be explored (garbage being ingested, animals being entangled in fishing line, etc.). Healthy living can be discussed; most teams collect hundreds of cigarette butts – harmful to animals and harmful to humans. Links can be made between data collection and the development of public policy.

The Shoreline Cleanup makes a great bridging event. The girls have fun being outdoors contributing positively to the environment while seeing friends and Guiders from their previous branches and having the opportunity to see and work with girls in older branches. Consider planning a cleanup event for your neighbourhood’s units today!

Guest post by Nelly Letourneau and Karen Russell. Nelly has been Guider with the 2nd  Sackville Sparks, the 8th Ottawa Sparks and the 3rd Sackville Brownies. As a Ranger, she traveled with Girl Guides of Canada and Canada World Youth to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica to work on conservation projects.  

Karen started Guiding in 1970 with the 348th Toronto Guides and fondly remembers many long car rides with her dad to the camps she attended.  She has been a leader with the 8th Ottawa Brownies, the 132nd and 131st Guides, and the 132nd Pathfinders and currently works with the 8th Ottawa Sparks. 

Together, Nelly and Karen have been involved with coordinating the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups for Guiding units in Ottawa’s Alta Vista / Elmvale neighbourhoods since 2009.

Get your cleanup going!
GGC has partnered with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to celebrate Global Youth Service Day (April 17-19), by providing our members with resources, backgrounders and activities to plan and execute their own shoreline cleanup! You do not need to live by the coast to take part in a shoreline cleanup! A shoreline is any place where land connects water, so anybody from anywhere in Canada can participate. Click here for more information.

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