Squamish was built by volunteers, and it continues to depend on the service of those willing to give their time for others.
But, according to some local volunteering women, the changing demographics of the area means fewer people are able to give back.
More time spent on the road commuting to and from Vancouver for work means less time leftover for activities devoted to the community.
“I really believe that it’s difficult today for people to get involved as much as in the past,”said Corrine Lonsdale, former mayor of Squamish and active volunteer for organizations such as the Sea to Sky Forestry Centre and the West Coast Railway Association.
“There used to be more people in their middle-age volunteering, but those people are now on the highway . . . if people are so busy in their lives because they have to be on the road three hours a day and eight hours in Vancouver, that’s 11 hours before you even get started.”
Lonsdale started volunteering more actively when she left city council, and says that the pattern of post-retirement service shouldn’t make up the bulk of Squamish’s volunteering force.
“I just can’t sit back and do nothing, I need to be involved in my community, and lots of people my age are like that,” she said. “But we need more people in their 30s and 40s volunteering than in their 60s and 70s.”
Volunteering is something that is often learned and inherited, says Bianca Peters, president and founder of the Squamish Historical Society.
She grew up in a family that regularly housed Polish refugees, and this spirit of selfless support stayed with her throughout her life and is a philosophy which she says is an essential element of community.
“It builds relationships, it builds loyalty, it builds trust, it builds a network, so if someone down the line needs help, you’ve already got a safety net available,” Peters said.
“When the next issue comes you’re there to catch someone, so they don’t need to fall.”
Christina Musselwhite, who volunteers at residential care home Hilltop House, says that while, yes, there are fewer volunteers now than there were in the past, if organizations reached out more often for support, the people would come.
“I don’t think a lot of people know about these societies and what they do,” she said. “There needs to be more exposure, because I had no idea about Hilltop until I went up there, and I’ve lived here since ‘75.”
Women are essential to the volunteering force, especially in roles such as caregiving and leading activism around issues that affect the environment and social issues.
Clarissa Antone, Squamish Nation activist leader who also serves on multiple boards and committees where she is outspoken about justice and fairness, knows this to be true.
“Women are the ones who get out and do things,” she said. “Women are what hold the whole family together. A woman is the one who holds the whole world in her hands, because she’s got to be the cook, take care of the children . . . that’s how it is for women. If we stand together we stand strong together, and help each other and be there for each other. If we don’t stand strong together, then we’re not going to get anywhere in this world.”