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Former homeless camp ‘dump site’ being cleaned up along Millstone River

Nanaimo’s Jeff Callaghan has taken up the task of clearing trash from abandoned homeless camp
Jeff Callaghan, of Nanaimo, has taken on the task of cleaning up a massive pile of trash left behind after squatters abandoned a camp on the shore of the Millstone River near Barsby Park. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

A Nanaimo man is moving a mountain of trash from beside a bluff near Barsby Park.

Jeff Callaghan, 48, has taken it upon himself to pick up trash, often left in abandoned homeless camps, in the city’s parks.

His most recent and daunting cleanup project started Monday when he discovered an area on the north shore of the Millstone River about 40 metres long by about 12 metres wide, literally buried several layers deep in garbage that includes broken tents, old clothes, camping equipment, Styrofoam, scrap metal and discarded syringes.

The mess was first discovered when Nanaimo Fire Rescue battled a fire there several weeks ago. The fire was put out, the campsite was abandoned, but the garbage remained.

“I’ve got 10 children in total, and I used to bring my older ones down here and they’d play and have a wonderful time,” Callaghan said.

He takes his younger children to beaches and other parks to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible through the summer, but finding clean parks for them to play in has become more challenging.

“Just recently I’ve been finding massive dump sites everywhere, all over the city…” he said. “I’m thinking of going for a non-profit organization or something like that to get a bunch of people together and just focus on cleaning up these messes.”

By Friday morning, after four days of picking up trash near Barsby Park, Callaghan had filled 90 garbage bags and he figures it will likely take that many more again before the job is complete.

“We had deer and tons of wildlife in here,” Callaghan said. “I’m kind of a nature nut and this doesn’t look like nature.”

He said there are about a dozen otters that live in Millstone River where it runs past the park and geese used to nest on rocks above the area, but didn’t this year because of the disruption caused by the dump created by campers in the six months he estimates they squatted on the site.

“That’s very hard area to deal with because it’s hard for police or bylaws to get down there,” said Al Britton, city manager of parks operations. “It’s also not technically city property. It belongs to the province. That being said, I mean, it’s within the city, and you know, a fire is a fire and you’ve got to put it out and you’ve got to somehow clean it up.”

Callaghan organized a trash clearing party today, Aug. 18, at the park with various community groups that include a sport fishing organization and a martial arts school.

The city also arranged to have a dumpster bin dropped off at Barsby Park for the cleanup party.

“The cleanup will happen and the city will be paying for it,” Britton said. “It’s a good thing because we’re having a hard time trying to find somebody to actually go in and physically do it because of the terrain, so he’s actually doing us a major favour by doing this, so I really do not mind helping him out in this circumstance one little bit.”

A second garbage pile has formed on private property on the south side of the park by campers, who Callaghan said are the same ones who created the mess he’s cleaning. It will likely be removed in September when the city is planning a major cleanup of the park.

Anyone who wants to help with Saturday’s trash cleanup or future cleanup projects can get in touch with Callaghan through his Facebook page at

To view a video of how the trash site looked when Callaghan first discovered it, click this link (Caution: course language).

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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