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Volunteers' Stories

500 Hours… and Counting

By: Debbie Young

Photo of volunteer Debbie Young Debbie Young, a Parks Canada Volunteer
© Parks Canada

Would you like to have an opportunity to wear an 1850’s costume, see behind the scenes at a national historic site, and share memorable experiences with others?

Just over six years ago, I saw the above ad in the Volunteers column of the Winnipeg Free Press. I didn’t realize then that my relationship with Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site and Parks Canada would extend to almost 500 volunteer hours – and counting!

My volunteer time at the Fort has seen me taking on various roles – usually I’m on site on Sunday afternoons, to assist with activities for the visitors, like a bannock workshop or a scavenger-hunt Discovery Game. I have also participated in the seasonal Halloween and Christmas events as well as other special events on site for Victoria Day and Canada Day.

I really enjoy the opportunity to delve into local and Canadian living history. This is very different from my professional career as a Chartered Accountant and my other volunteer activities. I like to consider my time at Lower Fort Garry as my “guilty pleasure” volunteering – I can’t lie about it…it is just plain fun to stroll around in historical dress surrounded by original, historic buildings!

I really enjoy meeting a wide variety of people through my time at the Fort. I am fortunate to volunteer with a great group, who makes the Sunday afternoons fly by with chatter, crafts and cookies!

In talking to the visitors on site, I like to find out where they’ve travelled from and what their interest is for the site, in the hopes that I can point them to activities that match their interest. I find that most visitors are curious about the handicrafts we demonstrate, and I like to give them the opportunity to handle the materials, whether it is spun wool yarn or leather for moccasins. I feel that the demonstrations help to make our history more tangible and accessible. In turn, the visitors’ questions often lead me down new paths of research – lately, I’ve been reading as much as possible on dressmaking techniques and corsetry to be able to explain why the Red River women wore what they did.

Last summer, I had the chance to explore another aspect of historical research through the Public Archaeology Program at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site in Nova Scotia. This week-long program allowed 12 participants to explore all aspects of archaeology while volunteering on an excavation site on the De la Valliere property in the heart of the reconstructed town and fortifications. Each participant was assigned a one meter by one meter plot, and it was fascinating to see how quickly artifacts were uncovered in each workspace.

This summer experience in Nova Scotia has renewed my passion to discover more about the people who lived in the Red River area over 150 years ago. I can hardly wait for next summer, to continue my journey as a Parks Canada volunteer.