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Elmwood elder keeps neighbourhood clean

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An Elmwood resident has been working hard to tidy up the community.

Soon-to-be-83-year-old Alex McWilliams has been doing his part — doing everything from picking up trash to pruning plants in local parks — since heading out for long walks almost daily in the area three years ago. He started after he noticed swelling in one of his legs, and blood thinners and medications didn’t help matters.

"I got to taking long walks," McWilliams said, noting he’ll generally go early in the morning during the summer and in the afternoon during the winter. "I go down to that Elmwood Park, and go different routes, come back a different way."

McWilliams said in his time out on the sidewalks, he hasn’t noticed the amount of trash decrease. Northeast Winnipeg streets were slightly above average in the Take Pride Winnipeg! litter index released in May.

"I have to say that there’s little change in people’s habits," he said. "People go to the food store and drop the wrapper or the bottle or whatever. Down along the river, there are always beer cans."

McWilliams, who grew up on a farm near Pilot Mound before moving to the city to live with his second wife, said he finds plenty of harrowing items over the course of an outing. On three separate occasions, McWilliams has found discarded knives in trash cans, and in the grass at Elmwood Park.

"It looked quite capable of killing somebody," McWilliams said of a knife with a four-inch blade he found in a wooded area at Elmwood Park. He’s also found knives with blades of at least seven inches, he noted.

McWilliams’ neighbours on Winterton Avenue, John Unger and Sandra Allen, have noticed him all over the community trying to make a difference, and are appreciative.

"Without people like Alex, who knows what our streets would look like?" Allen said.

Unger said he’s noticed McWilliams come home with his baseball cap covered in burrs — McWilliams explained he’d been out trimming thistles to prevent them from attaching to local dogs.

McWilliams said he’s led an interesting life thus far, especially having been part of Farmers for Justice, which fought to create a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board. He also volunteers at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 81 at 300 Trent Ave. and at Gordon King Memorial United Church at 127 Cobourg Ave.

McWilliams listed off several members of his family, and some people from his old community, who lived to be at least 100 years old, and he hopes to follow their lead by getting out and about.

"Being active is more enjoyable than sitting at home doing nothing," he said.

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