You might not imagine spending your birthday cleaning up local parks in your area, but that’s exactly how Burnaby’s Gerald Owen is celebrating his 70th birthday.
Owen’s milestone birthday is April 8 and his family is hosting a clean-up event the day before on April 7 with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a national conservation partnership between Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada.
Family, friends and neighbours will gather to clean up litter at Trillium Trails Nature Reserve, just off of Spruce Street, down to Guichon Creek before ending up with a locally-sourced barbecue at the family home.
Owen was born in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1949, where he lived for five years before moving with his family to Montreal for 11 years.
Ultimately, he moved and stayed in Burnaby, with him and his neighbour building the family home in 1973.
The family still lives there today and they have taken ownership of the nearby trails and creek.
Owen says his family, himself and his neighbours helped save part of the forest near their home by writing letters to local newspapers and poems.
Some even went as far as to tie themselves to trees.
Owen has dedicated his life to making sure local parks and his own community are kept clean from litter by simply picking it up and taking it to the nearest garbage can.
“I admit, I’m a bit obsessive,” Owen said.
Owen said his passion for the environment started at a young age, remembering being in Scouts and always winning the prize for the cleanest campsite.
Owen avidly recycles and composts and has taught his five children and the rest of his family to do the same.
"My view is always to leave something or an area better than you found it," Owen said.
His daughter Catherine Owen said she grew up with an environmental consciousness because of her father, recalling many trips to the recycling depot and taking leftovers to the compost at a young age.
Catherine said the family felt they needed to celebrate her dad’s life as it's rare for a person to have spent such a long time living and caring deeply for the same community.
“I wanted to do something that was characteristically, him,” Catherine said.