With the loss of Gibsons’ Sea Cavalcade and recent anguished cries for volunteers to help with Sechelt’s Canada Day festivities, it’s past time to look at an unhappy trend in a community once known for its summertime festivals.

All the Coast’s festivals rely heavily on volunteer assistance. With single-day events, the effort is considerable but with multi-day affairs the task of oversight, and the costs for event insurance, site rentals, and materials storage is massive. Burn-out is inevitable, and when it comes upon all members of an event’s governing body simultaneously, the result is a loss to the community of events such as the Gibson’s Landing Fibre Arts Festival (recognized, shortly before its demise, as one of Canada’s Top 10 Festivals by Maclean’s magazine). Or family-friendly Sea Cavalcade. Or the Mushroom Festival. Or the Salmon Festival.

These summertime festivals are serious economic drivers for the tourism industry. The Writer’s Festival realizes this and funds paid staff to help coordinate the event and the volunteers – resulting in its being recognized as one of the top literary festivals in Canada. So given this example, and the value of the festivals to the community, why are provincial and local governments and business organizations not providing more financial support for the various groups to hire paid coordinators, to ensure volunteers are managed in such a way as to avoid burnout?

Part of the volunteer die-off problem may lie with the groups themselves. Coordinators who have held the reins for years may have difficulty delegating to new volunteers with different perspectives. As a result, volunteers may show up to help, but their talents might not be used or their suggestions dismissed because “we’ve always done it this way.” And so the volunteers lose interest and drift away. No one wants to feel they are wasting their time and effort.

Apparently, the diminishing volunteer base is a global trend. If we want to keep our Coastal events happening, as a community and as individuals we will have to buck this trend. Pick an event, and consider volunteering as a family. Behind the scenes is where it’s at.

  by Heather Jeal

Fraser Blues photo from a past Sea Cavalcade by Allan Forest