An army of orange-shirted men and women swarmed Collingwood’s waterfront today for some rapid-fire volunteer work.
In less than 24 hours just under 500 volunteers cleaned up Collingwood’s shorefront from Sunset point to Harbourview Park, built a snowshoe trail, built a pergola, tore down a shack and finished a mountain of landscape work at the Awen Gathering Circle.
The work crews were members of the United Steelworkers Union (USW) in town for a district conference. The conference occurs every three years, and includes a community service component.
“Steelworkers are so much more than people think they are,” said Rob Mason, the organizing and membership development coordinator for the USW District 6. “When so many delegates come together, we want to make a difference.”
Mason approached Collingwood a few months ago to ask what the group could do to help while they were in town for the conference.
Director of Parks Recreation and Culture Dean Collver approached council to fast-track one part of the waterfront master plan, which was an Indigenous gathering circle.
From late March to now, the project was approved, designed and built. The USW volunteers did major work on landscaping including sodding, planting, and applying mulch over a large area surrounding the gathering circle.
“It was ambitious,” said Mason. “I was afraid we couldn’t pull it off, but we did.”
He commended the town for starting with a project that recognizes the Indigenous heritage of the area.
“This is our humble attempt at starting to build a pathway to reconciliation … I applaud the town for starting here,” he said. “It was important to start with this.”
Crews also cleaned up Collingwood’s shoreline from the eastern edge of Sunset Point to the western end of Harbourview Park, and they helped build a snowshoe trail through the arboretum. At Sunset Point, crews from USW helped tear down an old lifeguard shack, install barbecues and built a pergola on the east end.
Joe Krmpotich, a USW member from Sault Ste. Marie, oversaw the work at Sunset Point.
He said he and his crew were happy to help with the project.
“Because steelworkers make good neighbours,” he said.
Krmpotich praised town staff for their work on the project and in planning with the USW.
“We had a good team here working safely and they were all hand-selected for different projects,” he said, adding, “this is an absolutely stunning waterfront.”
Most of the crews wrapped up work today, Sept. 6. Mason and Krmpotich said they were proud to see the work accomplished and to give back to the community.
“I hope it all gets lots of use and when people do use it they know where it came from,” said Mason.
There is a dedication ceremony to bless the gathering circle tomorrow (Sept. 7) at 3 p.m.