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
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 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.
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
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.