WWF Canada Blog:
Fresh Water

News, views and analysis from our team as we work to create solutions to conservation challenges facing our planet.


Retired synchronized swimmer & RBC Olympian Valerie Hould-Marchand kicks (cigarette) butt

By Valerie Hould-Marchand, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup Champion and RBC Olympian

I arrived early at Woodbine Park in Toronto, and was eager to get started. I was immediately greeted by the wonderfully happy team from WWF and of course the iconic and extremely popular panda mascot. After a few chats with some of the volunteers, it was time to get down to business and start cleaning! But I needed a team. You can certainly clean on your own, but it’s always more fun when you can share the experience with other passionate volunteers. I was fortunate to join Christina Topp,  VP of Marketing and Communications with WWF-Canada,  and her two daughters Paige and Sydney. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in for a treat. The girls knew everything there is to know about “The Cleanup”. They came prepared for the adventure with a backpack filled with equipment, snacks and beverages. They knew exactly how to document our findings along the shoreline, and even had a favorite cleanup spot at Woodbine Park. I was in good hands, but could I keep up with these three environmental champions? Well, all I had to do was to follow their direction. My job on the team was to collect as many cigarettes/cigarette filters and tips as possible.

(C) Katie Edmonds, WWF-Canada

I was shocked to see how much litter there was in plain sight with garbage bins only a few feet away. Why so many? I was willing to give my fellow Canadians the benefit of the doubt here. Do they think cigarettes are biodegradable? Is this why it’s socially acceptable to throw them on the ground rather than in garbage bins? Cigarettes are definitely NOT biodegradable, as they contain plastic. And last year in Ontario, a large percentage of the litter removed from our shorelines came from smoking related products. No wonder Canadians comb through the shores and collect over 350,000 cigarettes every year through The Great Canadian Cleanup.

My team collected over 600 cigarettes and two full bags of garbage in a little over two hours. We felt good about the amount of litter collected, and even more proud that we worked together to reduce shoreline litter.

(C) Katie Edmonds, WWF-Canada

When I left Woodbine Park that day, my heart was filled with joy for so many reasons. But one reason in particular was the impressive number of parents who brought their kids (some as young as three years old) to take part in this movement. Kudos to those who participated with their children and in turn promoted a greater understanding and respect for our planet!

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our stunning water views, and it is up to all of us to keep our shorelines clean. It starts here, it starts now! There is still time to join and help clean up shoreline litter in your community. You can make a world of a difference and it will leave with the most amazing sense of accomplishment.

Valerie’s 15-year career in competitive synchronized swimming was filled with athletic accomplishments that included winning a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games and gold medals at the 1995 Junior World Championships, 1998 Commonwealth Games and 1999 Pan American Games.

Valerie is part of the RBC Olympian program, which hires Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes as community ambassadors to bring messages of leadership and excellence to Canadian communities. The program provides Olympians with the opportunity to gain valuable work experience to prepare for life after sport, while also receiving much-needed funding to realize their dreams. RBC has become a proud supporter of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup through a recent grant of $100,000 from the RBC Blue Water Project.


  • ROSEMARY PLUMMER

    THANK you to all who contributed on this day ,working together to protect the environment , the water specifically, is something I had hoped to do that day but was not able to make it. I am grateful that many did and look forward to lots more of this–thank you Valerie-your years being a part of a dedicated team. and your love of the water are real assets here. You are great role model.