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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community
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Boom to Bust to Boom Again

Throughout 1981 and 1982, Alberta’s proverbial ‘house of cards’ crashed. Trudeau’s National Energy Policy, world oil prices, Alberta’s over-reliance on the energy sector, general recession in the western world, and high interest rates all helped to create Alberta’s economic bust. Thousands of people were laid off by oil companies and related service businesses. Bankruptcies, business closures, and bank foreclosures were common-place. Local banks and credit unions tumbled. Real estate values experienced a major meltdown and Alberta’s imploding markets led to a huge migration out of the province.

Alberta’s first food banks emerged in the early 1980s. By the end of the 20th Century there were 80 food banks scattered throughout the province. Food banks could not provide their services without public contributions and the help of volunteers.

In 1985, Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed retired and was replaced by Don Getty. Oil prices fell again in 1986, further aggravating Alberta’s economic plight. The need to diversify Alberta’s economy was obvious. Over reliance on just one or two industries has always perpetuated Alberta’s boom and bust cycles. The need to diversify and promote other revenue sources galvanized a number of groups to take action. For example, the Book Publishers Association of Alberta (BPAA) looked for a cultural sub-agreement under a provincial/ federal Economic and Regional Development Agreement (ERDA).

BPAA hired Margaret Barry to lobby provincial and federal governments. In this role, she also contacted and invited other cultural organizations to form the Alberta Cultural Industries Ad Hoc Committee, and wrote the committee’s mission statement. Volunteer committee members included spokespeople from BPAA, AMPIA, ARIA, WGA, U of A Printing, Brian Paisley (founder of the Fringe), and Tommy Banks. As far as any one knew, this was the first time in Alberta’s history that representatives from varied cultural industries sat around a common table, shared notes, and discussed future possibilities.

Please go to Margaret Barry’s 1987 article Why Not Alberta for details.

Diversifying Alberta’s economy remained a hot topic. The Alberta government turned to forestry as their choice sector. Starting in 1986, ten forestry-related announcements were given over a fifteen-month period, with government investments and loans reaching the $3.4 billion mark. None of these developments received as much public and media attention as the government’s 1988 plans to develop the AlPac pulp and paper mill near Athabasca. AlPac represented the largest mill ever built in Alberta and their massive clear cut areas would take out immense tracts of the continent’s last remaining unmarred forests. Opponents coined this project "Brazil of the North", after the devastation to Brazil’s rainforests by development. Forums were held throughout the province, well-known environmentalists were stridently opposed, as were some native groups and organizations such as Friends of Athabasca, made up of volunteer members. Diversification and putting people back to work was the government’s priority so in the end, the mill was built.

In 1992, Premier Getty announced his retirement as Conservative party leader and was Replaced by Ralph Klein. Klein took over the helm with the clear intent of getting Alberta out of debt. The 1990s represented tremendous reductions to government funding. Cut backs, roll backs, and privatization ruled. Social services, health, and education were particularly hard hit. Downsizing in the voluntary sector was also a result. At the risk of staff and volunteer burnout, many voluntary sector programs survived by forming creative partnerships and by operating on shoe-string budgets.

ArtworkAs the painting by J.P. Nourry-Barry demonstrates, the history and evolution of volunteerism in Alberta during the 20th Century was dramatically influenced and shaped by social and economic trends, international movements, two World Wars, technological advances, political policies, and the cultural revolution.

In one century, Albertans went from driving horse drawn carriages to seeing televised manned space shuttles to the moon. Scientific discoveries, medical advancements, urban growth, changing family patterns and gender roles, human rights, computerization, and quantum leaps in communication made their marks during this century. The Information Age heralded globalization.

Giving and Volunteering In Alberta (PDF)

The aim of Giving and Volunteering in Alberta is to provide statistical data about the patterns of charitable donations and volunteerism in Alberta. It is derived from the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating carried out by Statistics Canada at the end of 1997. Survey responses took place in the one-year period between November 1, 1996 and October 31, 1997. The report’s author Liane Greenberg asserts that, while donating and volunteering are widespread in the province, there is little in the way of statistical data to clarify who donates or volunteers, and why. The report aspires to fill this gap so that organizations relying on public support may better refine their fundraising and volunteer recruiting strategies.

With balanced budgets, high oil and gas revenues, and major surpluses, Alberta’s economic ‘boom’ was restored. In 2004, Premier Ralph Klein announced that Alberta was debt free.

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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community

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