Edmonton's garbage-picking retiree 'loves' to clean up

Maryanne Wiebe is known by some as Edmonton’s garbage lady.

'I just want to go and make things nice'

Volunteer Maryanne Wiebe cleans up downtown streets every week. (Storyblocks)

Maryanne Wiebe is known by some as Edmonton's garbage lady.

Every Sunday, for the past seven years, Wiebe has picked up litter off the streets.

The retiree is a common sight downtown, where she canvasses the sidewalks armed with thick plastic gloves and her garbage-grabbing stick.

A dirty job 

She's picked up a "gazillion" coffee cups and fast-food wrappers, even a mason jar filled with urine she found discarded outside the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre — and has done it all without any kind of remuneration.

The task is less than glamorous, Wiebe admits, but it's all in day's work for this dedicated volunteer.

"If it wasn't for fast food places, I wouldn't pick up anything," Wiebe said Monday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "There is a lot of cigarette paraphernalia and lots of clothes.

"I almost think people get a fresh change of clothes and they just drop trou right on the street."
Maryanne Wiebe cleans up downtown Edmonton every week. (Maryanne Wiebe)

Wiebe's street-cleaning gig started when she moved from St. Albert to central Edmonton and began walking 20 blocks to work every day.

She was disgusted with what she saw.

"I started walking to work at the CN Tower from Oliver, and it struck me how pretty 100th Avenue was and yet how disgustingly dirty it was," Wiebe said.

"There was so much trash along my walk. The first year it bugged me and the second year, I thought, 'It's still bugging you, what can you do?' "

Wiebe signed on for the city's Capital City Clean Up program and single handedly "adopted" a big stretch of 100th Avenue.

"Usually you adopt a block," she said. "But I'm a bit of an overachiever so I adopted 14 blocks."

At first, Wiebe felt self-conscious on her route. She was given an official volunteer pinafore to wear but felt embarrassed.

"I didn't want to have the big word volunteer on my back. I just want to go and make things nice."  

"I just want to take care of my city and I love to do it." -Maryanne Wiebe

The absence of an official uniform, however, has led to some misunderstandings.  

"It's very strange to see a citizen just walking along, picking up garbage," said Wiebe, 57, who retired in July. "So I have been stopped and asked if I am doing community service.

"Someone said they would like to contact my parole officer to let them know that I'm doing a great job."

Over the years, Wiebe has fine-tuned her routine. She goes out every Sunday, emptying her garbage bags into city trash cans as she pokes her way down the avenue.

Wiebe has no plans to stop garbage picking. Although she does admit, she would prefer to be known as a neighbour, rather than the garbage lady.

"I encourage people to take care of their city. I always say, it takes a village and I'm part of that village.

"I just want to take care of my city, and I love to do it."  
We meet Edmonton's "Garbage Lady"... a dedicated volunteer who's picked up a "gazillion" coffee cups off the streets of downtown over the past 7 years. 6:58