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Parks Canada’s Volunteers

The Canadian Register of Historic Places celebrates the extraordinary work of people who are not paid: volunteers. Without volunteers, some exciting activities at Parks Canada's national parks or national historic sites (NHS) could not happen. Volunteers are people who work tirelessly, either behind the scenes or on the front lines, to ensure that people have the best experience when visiting a national park or national historic site. On December 5, let's take the opportunity offered by the International Volunteer Day to thank them.

In 2010, nearly 6,000 volunteers at 85 different locations have helped with special events such as Parks Day, provided caretaking activities such as trail Lower Fort Garry, Parks Canada / Lower Fort Garry, Parcs Canadamaintenance, supported archaeological research, were park ambassadors, or appeared as costumed interpreters.  Parks Canada's volunteers help share ideas, knowledge, talent and skills to build a legacy for Canada's natural and historic treasures. By lending a hand, volunteers are connected to their natural and cultural heritage, enriching their lives and helping to make a difference at national parks and national historic sites.

There are a number of ways that someone can help out.  An individual can apply directly at most Parks Canada sites indicated online.  Here are some examples of historic sites that need volunteers: Fort Langley NHS, where heritage tea servers, gold commissioners, and storytelling assistants are needed; or Sault St. Marie Canal NHS, where there is a need for musicians, assistant groundskeepers, and historical researchers; or Lower Fort Garry NHS, where people are needed to dress up in 1850s costumes.

Bar U Ranch, Parks Canada / Ranch Bar U, Parcs CanadaA number of National Historic Sites of Canada are supported by volunteer organizations who work in partnership with Parks Canada.  For example, at Bar U Ranch NHS the Friends of the Bar U Ranch Association works cooperatively with Parks Canada to maintain this historic cultural landscape.  This organization has existed since the late 1980s, and is now comprised of members of the local community and Parks Canada to provide stewardship of the ranch lands and historic buildings, and help further public awareness of the cultural history of the ranch.  Among other things, the Friends purchase historic ranching equipment, fix fences, and do fundraising activities.  These activities come in the form of interpretive trail rides, cowboy storytelling evenings, and chuckwagon cookoffs.  These activities help support the traditional character of the historic ranch, which represents Alberta's ranching in the 1880-1950 period, and is a fine example of a rural Alberta landscape.

Other National Historic Sites of Canada are run solely by volunteer organizations.  This is the case at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery NHS in Steveston, B.C.  Owned by Parks Canada, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society operates the site as a non-profit organization run by its members and other volunteers, some of whom grew up in the Steveston area and who have close ties to the fishing industry.  Interpretive activities include a newsletter called "Cannery Currents", an online blog and Facebook page, photo contests, and detailed interpretation programs for school groups.  By providing these outreach activities, these volunteers help visitors to the area appreciate other historic places in the community, including the Steveston Telephone Exchange; the Steveston Courthouse; and Ray's Drygoods.

In Jasper National Park, the Friends of Jasper National Park work as independent stewards who help promote the understanding, appreciation and respect for both the natural and cultural history of Jasper.  Through fundraising activities they have contributed towards restoring the Park Information Centre and the Whistler Theatre, and have helped maintain the Jasper Discovery Trail.  The Friends of Jasper National Park are also involved in running a gift shop in the information centre, organizing movie nights, and - on most summer evenings - providing a free walking tour called Jasper...Walk in the Past, which takes visitors on a walk past Jasper's historic buildings. Fort York / Fort York

People living in Toronto may think that Fort York NHS is run by Parks Canada, but it is actually owned and operated jointly by the City of Toronto and the non-profit organization known as The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common.  Through their newsletter The Fife and Drum, a Facebook fan page, and other outreach activities, those working here have developed strong ties with communities in Toronto and with experts at Parks Canada. The Fort's activities serve as an excellent model of volunteers in action at Parks Canada's sister National Historic Sites of Canada.

An important relationship between Parks Canada and a community of volunteers exists at the Fortress of Louisbourg NHS. From conducting special dinner theatre shows to archaeological digs opened to the public, the Fortress of Louisbourg Association is intimately involved in interpreting and celebrating the rich history of the French presence in North America.  Volunteers from the local community are recruited to be re-enactors at the Fort. One can march in a French militia or play a period instrument!  Not only does the Fort work wFortress of Louisbourg / Forteresse de Louisbourgith local volunteers to enhance its programs, but Parks Canada and the Fortress of Louisbourg Association have also introduced geocaching as an activity at the site in collaboration with the Atlantic Geocaching Association. Also, to whet the taste buds of visitors, "historic" chocolate is now sold at the fort in collaboration with the Colonial Chocolate Society.

Volunteers play key roles in making storied places come alive! Parks Canada celebrates their efforts to bring special experiences to our national parks and national historic sites of Canada.  Next time you see someone dressed up in period costume, if you are at a gift shop, or on a walking tour, there's probably a volunteer helping out. Go out of your way and thank them!

Additional Online Resources for Volunteering at National Parks and National Historic Sites of Canada

1. Parks Canada Sites

Volunteer application

Volunteers' stories

2. Volunteer Organizations

Friends of the Bar U Ranch Historic Ranch Association

Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society

Friends of Jasper National Park

The Friends of Fort York

Fortress of Louisbourg Association