Freewheeling at the Free Store

Whitehorse turned into Buenos Aires on Victoria Day long weekend. No, not the beach of Buenos Aires - the dump. Oh, excuse me, I should say the landfill.

Whitehorse turned into Buenos Aires on Victoria Day long weekend.

No, not the beach of Buenos Aires – the dump. Oh, excuse me, I should say the landfill.

There was no charge to drop off garbage and cast-offs, hand-me-downs or recyclables for someone else to use. Well over a thousand people took advantage of this perk that the City of Whitehorse offered in an attempt to get citizens to clean up their yards.

SDLqLook at this!” yelled my friend Dave Hawkey, as we stood amidst heaps of good junk. “It’s a Cowichan sweater! Remember those?”

A dozen or more of us were scavenging. We stood near the overflowing Free Store, where truck after truck was backing up to offload the things they couldn’t use anymore or were now out-of-date. We ran to be the first to get our hands on the goods.

“Oh, here’s an amplifier! If I can get it going I’ve got myself more sound. This place is a great idea,” Dave tells me. “I can fix things because I’m from that generation that learned how. But now everything is built to break and be chucked out within a couple of years. It’s a buy, throw out, buy, throw out cycle.”

Teresa Johnson is quite happy with this syndrome of disposability. “I’ve furnished my whole house with stuff from here,” she says.

“I got stereos, speakers, entertainment centres and carpet for my son’s room. I come to the dump every day except Wednesday when they clean up.

“It’s funny – whenever my husband says he wishes he could find a certain thing, we do find it the next day, or the day after, here at the Free Store. He has $1,000 worth of shirts from here. Everything I wear I found here, including jewelry.”


Teresa and her husband are on a fixed income. They couldn’t otherwise afford the furnishings and clothing they get here for free, they say.

As we ran helter-skelter to scrounge through these treasures, there was another competition going on just above our heads. Seagulls screeched and battled nearby over rotting food.

I heard the low, muffled chugging of a diesel engine and looked up from a bag of toys to see a big new pickup backing near me. My eyes bugged out at the sight of a ski pulk with a tinted windshield.

Made in Europe, it’s a high-end sled to pull a baby while cross-country skiing. But Jeff Lister beats me to the draw.

“This is worth a small fortune,” he says. “I’m going to donate it to the ski club. You know I once found a rarely-used Nordi-Track treadmill here at the Free Store. It’s the top-of-the-line exercise machine and a new one is worth a thousand bucks.”

Jeff is a tinkerer and inventor in his spare time. He comes here for parts for his projects. And he’s not alone. I see a man approach with tools in his hands.

“I’m going to take the carburetor out of that lawn-mower,” he tells me as he points to one of three push-mowers. “I have a rototiller at home that needs a new carburetor, and this will work in it. I’ll save myself 300 bucks by fixing the one I have.”

Alex Martin grins from the guardhouse. That’s the trailer at the entrance to the landfill.

You tell him what junk you have, and he tells you what bin number it should go in. There are gigantic containers for household garbage or construction materials and different bins for cardboard, plastics, glass and tin cans.

Later, when I sit down with Alex in the shaky little trailer, a smile of contentment spreads across his face.

“Scavengers and salvagers are good for the environment,” he says. A salvager is more professional than us scavengers at the Free Store – they buy a permit for $100 to go to a higher level.

“We’re one of the last landfill sites in Canada to allow salvaging,” says Alex. “If they have a permit they can go to where we’ve sorted it all to piles of tires, precious metals, construction materials and garbage. They can find copper and sell it and regain the cost of the permit in no time.”

“It’s amazing what is dropped off here at the landfill. We have practically new washers and dryers. Look at our fridge graveyard,” he says, pointing to an area where white fridges stand like tombstones.

“The most common things at the Free Store are furniture and clothing. We get tons of clothing.”

I nod and get up to leave. As I look back up at the mob near the Free Store I see Dave has intercepted a man who thought he might dump his aluminum windows into the construction bin. Dave stops him and gets the windows.

I smile and walk back to my car, wearing new red rubber boots someone dumped off here today. Perfectly good. Flashy, but perfectly good.

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