How former Ottawa Mission residents kept Inspiration Village looking pristine

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If you've taken a selfie in front of the 'Ottawa' sign in the ByWard Market this summer, you've seen

If you've snapped a selfie in front of the "Ottawa" sign this summer, you've seen Pierre Ferron's handiwork.

Ferron has been keeping Inspiration Village — the row of repurposed shipping containers plunked down in the ByWard Market — looking pristine, picking up trash, watering the plants, and scrubbing down those hard-to-miss capital letters.

He's part of a small team of former Ottawa Mission residents hired to perform janitorial work at the York Street village, which is in the midst of its final weekend.

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"This is just amazing, you know what I mean?" Ferron said Saturday afternoon, surveying the crowds of people taking photos and checking out the pavilions.

"[This is] what makes me want to live. Because I can give back."

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All summer, Pierre Ferron has been keeping the Inspiration Village site on York Street clean for visitors. He's part of a small team of workers all comprised of former Ottawa Mission residents. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Ferron readily admits that, for much of his life, he was a taker — not a giver.

He began drinking when he was 10, bouncing from New Brunswick to southern Ontario before arriving at the Ottawa Mission roughly 14 months ago.

'[I was] a bad dude. And now, I try to be a good dude.' - Pierre Ferron

Sober now for nearly two years, and living on his own with the Mission's assistance, Ferron said the summer job has helped him leave his previous life as a "tough guy" behind.

He said he's even reconnected with his son, who for years wanted little to do with him.

"All my life I drank, [got into] trouble," Ferron said. "You know, like a bad dude. And now, I try to be a good dude."

'They have been extraordinary'

Guy Laflamme, the executive director and producer of Ottawa 2017, said the York Street installation is based on a similar previous initiative in South Africa that had a "strong social dimension."

That's why they approached the Ottawa Mission to see if they could recommend former residents to help get the 41 shipping containers ready each day for the public.

The residents aren't volunteers, Laflamme said: they've all been compensated for their work, and the hope is they've gained valuable job skills they can put towards future endeavours.

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Ottawa 2017 executive director Guy Laflamme says more than 300,000 people have visited the Inspiration Village site in Ottawa's Byward Market neighbourhood this summer. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

"They have been extraordinary — the reliability, the quality of work that they've done, how they were always going beyond what we were asking them," he said.

"This, I think, is the success story of Inspiration Village."

As of Saturday afternoon, roughly 325,000 people had visited the village over the summer, Laflamme said.

The York Street site closes for good at 8 p.m. on Monday.

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