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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community
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History and Evolution

in Pre-1905 Alberta

Becoming a Province




2005 - 100 years
of volunteers


We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

– Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965
  (British Statesman and Prime Minister)

From historic to contemporary times, volunteers have given their time, efforts, material goods, and/or money to the betterment of a person, group, or cause. Random acts of kindness or volunteering with an organization that has identified goals fall under the auspices of volunteerism.

Volunteerism ranges from helping shovel someone’s side walk, volunteering at a child’s school, to coaching soccer without expectation of financial compensation.

Volunteers also donate their time to event driven programs such as folk festivals and sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games.

Piggyback Alberta’s charities, non-profit organizations, and many arts events could not succeed in achieving their respective goals without the help of volunteers. For every type of conceivable humanistic endeavor, there are legions of unsung Albertans who volunteer — distress lines, food banks, women’s shelters, disaster relief, arts programs, titled associations, board of directors, environmental causes, fundraising initiatives, museums, zoos, libraries, hospitals, community leagues, senior centres — the list is almost endless.

Volunteerism not only builds our communities, it also acts as a mirror that reflects changes and shifts in economic, political, social, and philosophical arenas. As a societal beacon, volunteer efforts are often the front line response to a situation that requires action or improvement.

Local, national, and international movements, issues, advancements, and trends have bookmarked and shaped the history and the evolution of volunteerism in Alberta.

The seeds of volunteerism in Alberta were sown through simple acts of charity, demonstrated first by the Aboriginal peoples who offered their time, knowledge and resources to help struggling European settlers survive the unforgiving winters of the Northwest. As fur trade posts and settlements developed, the Europeans responded in kind when the need arose, giving aid in the form of food and shelter to the Aboriginal people they traded with.

After Alberta joined Confederation in 1905, the concept of volunteerism evolved in tandem with the development of the province, and often reflected current social issues, needs and trends. Prior to the 1920s, volunteerism often reflected issues of social reform and the needs of a predominantly Anglo-Albertan culture. From the mid 1920s to the end of the 1930s, volunteerism saw its focus shift to the needs of farmers, and to a changing cultural landscape that saw immigration from central and eastern, rather than northern, Europe.

War also changed the face of volunteerism. The First and Second World Wars saw sharp increases in local wartime support activities, and many existing volunteer organizations set war service as a central agenda. 

The end of World War II and the beginning of the oil boom led Alberta down a path of economic prosperity. Volunteer organizations were now more diverse in their mandates, with an increased focus on leisure activities such as sports and the arts. Volunteer organizations also reflected the ever changing face of Alberta society, and a reality that saw increased immigration from countries and continents outside of Europe.

Today, volunteer organizations continue to evolve to suit the needs of Alberta society. The same spirit of charity and giving that existed in the region before Alberta was born lives on in a new generation of those who are willing to share with their communities.

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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community

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