Cops and scavengers (or, an interesting evening)

the trash pile that was

On Tuesday I came across what was probably the biggest pile of trash I had ever seen, and I mean it. The garbage extended even further than this picture shows. I spent a few hours looking through boxes and boxes of… things. Some other people, including a couple of older women, were there even longer than I was. It was incredible, and what happened later was quite interesting as well.



I think an older woman must have passed away. There were lots of beautiful old photos and mementos that no one throws out unless they’re not around to see it.

However, there was a problem: she also had bedbugs.

I discovered this close to the end of my stay. I heard the superintendent talking to some people about “punaises.” I went and checked out the old mattress and saw a bug. I usually check for them earlier but the sheer immensity of the mound of trash distracted me.

I had planned on being careful regardless, but when you actually see a bug you have to really be careful. I dumped some stuff I had planned on taking, including some old pictures and sewing patterns. I could have baked them and it would have been safe, but I didn’t think it was worth the stress to do so.

I ended up leaving with jewelry and dishes, or things I could easily clean. When I say jewelry though I mean a whole plastic shopping bag full of jewelry. I didn’t see immediate signs of gold or silver, but I did see some rocks that had a bit more glisten to them than the usual jewelry I find. I wondered if they were diamonds.

I walked my bike back home with these things (and some previous finds) in tow. The jewelry was in small bags inside a larger bag. I decided the best way to stay safe was to sort through the jewels on the sidewalk, putting them in a new plastic bag so that I brought as little inside as possible. Once inside I’d bake the jewels at a high enough temperature to kill bedbugs, which isn’t particularly high.

I probably looked a bit sketchy rummaging through jewels on the sidewalk. I had finished sorting and was about to go inside when I saw a police car come the wrong way down my street with their lights on. They walked into the laundromat nearby.

I was planning on washing everything I was wearing and I casually followed them into the laundromat, intending to put my jacket in the washer right away. When I heard them asking about someone with jewelry I was completely honest and told them the entire story.

They asked to see my bag of jewels and I showed it to them. I told them where I found it, why I was being such a weirdo, my information and so on. At some point they looked at each other and shrugged, not knowing what to do. They left – and they just walked away with my bag of jewelry. No explanation.

It definitely sounds (and feels) a bit silly in retrospect. I should have been more critical and at least asked as to what they had planned to do with the jewelry. I think I normally would have. However it’s hard to communicate the sort of mood I was in. Going through boxes and boxes of interesting trash for two hours (and having biked around for an hour and done some spring cleaning before that) was an exhausting process. As well, poking through the numerous possessions of someone’s life is humbling; it reminds you just how important it is to live life to it’s fullest. It forces you to acknowledge that we’re not around forever and to cherish what we do have.

When they left with the jewelry I can honestly say I didn’t really care at all. Maybe they sensed that. I had faith it’d all work out in the end, and was happy enough not to have to worry about cooking jewelry (even though I was confident it was fine either way). However, I am curious as to what exactly happened. From my understanding garbage picking in Montreal is not illegal. I’ve never had problems before and the police had hours to stop me, a few old ladies and other people from searching through that massive pile of trash earlier in the day. No one showed up.

I plan on calling the police department / 311 tomorrow to get more information. Maybe I can get the jewelry back, or at least find out exactly what went down. I’ll let you know how it goes.

royal albert bone china tenderness england

On the plus side, the dishes that the police didn’t take are beautiful! It’s all “Tenderness” by Royal Albert (a part of Royal Doulton). It’s all in great shape – not a single crack or chip. I made sure to clean it all at a temperature sure to kill any bugs, even though they don’t tend to take refuge on plates. It definitely has some value and I think I’ll try to sell them on Ebay.


Today was the warmest day in since the thaw in early March. The city was bustling. Walkers and cyclists filled the roads, happy to be able to walk around comfortably and relatively effortlessly. More trash pickers came out of the wood-works – I saw an older woman pushing around a baby carriage full of stuff, going from pile to pile in search of whatever it was that interested her. It wasn’t bottles – I saw her pass on a whole 12 pack. Just goes to show that there’s plenty of different kinds of “dumpster divers.”

There was a lot of trash out but not much I felt the need to bring home. I mostly moved things to places where they were more likely to be found by others.


This bike was amongst a pile of renovation-type stuff. It was spray-painted that colour. Both tires were flat.

I should find out the location of the Mile-End bike co-op – I could have brought this bike there pretty easily. I’m not sure if anyone would have taken it but it likely had some good parts on it.


Underneath all the boxes I found this snowboard (behind the back wheel in the picture above). I left it in a location that was a little more visible. It was still early in the day so I’m optimistic that someone else took it home.



I brought home a couple pieces of nice glass baking-ware. They were pretty clean too. I figure I can make use of these.


This keyboard was incomplete but might have been good for parts. It was in an alley and I moved it to the street so that someone else would be more likely to see it.


The beginning of spring is definitely the nastiest season in Montreal. All the snow melts and reveals all the trash that didn’t make it to the truck over the winter. The city goes on a “spring cleaning” of it’s own once the snow disappears for good, but until then the streets can be pretty grungy. This alley in between Bernard/Van Horne and Parc/Hutchison might have been the best (or worst) example of a filthy road I’ve seen so far.

I hope to make it out tomorrow morning to either Villeray or Hochelaga/Maisonneuve, in addition to my own neighbourhood. I’ll let you know if I find anything good.



Yesterday’s trash run reinforced the fact that I’m going to need to buy a good backpack if I’m going to be an effective garbage picker in the coming months. I currently only have a little milk crate on the back of my bike to carry things but it’s not nearly enough. I think I’m going to buy one of those big hiking backpacks; that way I can be sure I can take home as much as I want.

I came across some nice stuff in these bags on Cartier near Mont-Royal.

glue gun

I found this glue gun – tested it and it works fine.


Some painting supplies and a lot of screws. Screws are kind of expensive so it’s nice to save these. I have a growing collection of screws and nails from the trash now – not just from Thursday but from last September too. I also found a nice mallet – I have one exactly like it that I once used for leather-making.


Two paint trays that are definitely usable.

fostex t-20 headphones

A pair of Fostex T20 headphones…


My room-mate tested them out and they work great! They’re actually pretty nice headphones. Very comfortable. I looked them up on Ebay and other used ones are selling for between 50-79$. Definitely a good find!


I came across this stuff not far up the road. Inside the case in the foreground I found something I had to bring home, even though it’s pretty common to find them in the garbage.

smith-corona enterprise

I can’t resist bringing home typewriters. This one’s a Smith-Corona “Enterprise.” I like it a lot – the colour scheme fits my style.


I think I’ll keep it for myself – it might encourage me to write more. It works great and there’s even a good quantity of ink. It was a pain in the ass getting this back – I had to keep it on my handlebars because I already had most of a hardware store sitting in my crate – but I’m glad I made the effort.