Calgary man warns of hidden hazards in effort to clean up Olympic Plaza

WATCH ABOVE: A Calgary man is calling for more action after he says he found needles and bags of powder at Olympic Plaza, in an area used by daycares. Adam MacVicar reports.

Olympic Plaza has long been part of Calgary’s downtown core, but those who have watched it deteriorate feel it’s becoming an embarrassment, and in some cases, unsafe.

Lyndon Strandquist works at a restaurant near Olympic Plaza and first began to notice a problem four years ago. This summer, however, he said he noticed it get much worse.

He starts his shift at the restaurant with almost daily checks of the area, looking for needles, drugs and human waste in an area on the west side of Olympic Plaza outside the restaurant.

“I find little ripped open baggies [and] a lot of times I find syringe caps, which is troubling because you find the cap but you don’t find the needle,” Strandquist said. “I find a lot of burnt tin foil, a lot of human waste.

“It’s just unbelieveable.”

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Strandquist has captured images of much of what he finds with his camera, and posted photos to social media.

The photos show needles, bags of pink powder, broken bottles and people using the washroom in the mulch near the trees and bushes in the park.

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A bag of unknown pink powder Strandquist found in Olympic Plaza.
A bag of unknown pink powder Strandquist found in Olympic Plaza. Courtesy: Lyndon Strandquist

READ MORE: Calgary’s Olympic Plaza wading pool closed due to fecal matter

Strandquist admits he is worried that some of the potential hazards are not in plain sight, and that has motivated him to help clean up the park.

“I love this park — this is a beautiful park — [and] a lot of people come here for lunch everyday,” he said. “There’s a lot of children and families that come down here and hang out.

“People just don’t know about the real hidden dangers that are buried in the mulch.”

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Needles found on the west side of Olympic Plaza.
Needles found on the west side of Olympic Plaza. Courtesy: Lyndon Strandquist

The father of two often sees daycare programs come to the park on nice days so the kids can play near the part of the park where he has made his troubling discoveries.

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Strandquist said he has warned the daycare operators of what he’s seen, and they now check the area before letting the kids in.

“[It] makes me sick sometimes, the chances of one of those kids crawling around, putting their hand in some human crap, or picking up one of these baggies and putting it in their mouth, or poking their hand on a needle that happens to be buried,” he said. “It’s horrifying.”

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However, Strandquist praised City of Calgary staff that regularly clean the park, picking up a variety of similar items that he finds on his checks.

He said he often tells them of instances and hazards he finds in the park to try and help.

“They’re great,” Strandquist said. “The amount of stuff that they clean up. I don’t think it should be in their job description to clean up that hazardous waste, but they do it and I applaud them.

“They do a great job.”

Strandquist feels it’s his duty to help with the park cleanup and he hopes raising awareness about the issue will push the city to put up signage warning of the potential dangers around the plaza.

“If I see something sitting there and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to leave it for somebody else to clean it up,’ and then somebody was to get hurt by it, I would feel horrible,” he said.

City of Calgary staff admit the issue of needles and drug use has been plaguing Olympic Plaza, as well as several other downtown parks, for years.

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“It’s definitely a challenge for the City of Calgary,” said Calgary Community Standards superintendent Damian Cole.

“We do a lot of steps to try to prevent it from happening,” he said. “We have security cameras here and we have patrols going through as well, and obviously (the Calgary Police Service) come through this area very often.”

City officials recommend dialing 311 or 911 if you come across anything in city parks that could be harmful to the public.