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Urban Volunteering: Canadian Cities

by Chris Vandenberg Feb 25, 2010
Canada is a big country with big issues. If you’re looking to volunteer while in Canada, here are a few national organizations that could use your help.
Parks Canada

Parks Canada controls Canada’s many national parks (including a number of UNESCO sites); they also own and operate many other historic sites all over the country. This means that not only will you be able to find volunteer opportunities all over the country, but you will be able to find positions from environmental preservation to tour guiding to clerical work.

As a bonus, non-Canadian residents can apply for volunteer positions via an online questionnaire so that they can secure volunteer positions before they land in the country. Most volunteers need to be at least 18 years of age. Different positions require different skills and commitments. Accommodations are provided in some cases.

Parks Canada recommends that Canadian residents apply directly to the parks/historic sites where they wish to volunteer, but they are welcome to fill out the same questionnaire if they are looking for opportunities far from home. More information and the questionnaire can be found on the Parks Canada website.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is “the largest non-governmental direct provider of social services in Canada.” It operates numerous facilities across the country, including emergency relief shelters, addiction services, nursing homes, and summer camps. Volunteer positions are easy to come by in most Canadian cities.

The duration of your commitment depends on what project you will be working on. The Salvation Army is the perfect place to volunteer if you want to test the waters of fields like addiction treatment or palliative care, and positions generally require little to no experience.

Volunteers are also welcome to apply at any age.

To fill out the online form and to see what’s available near you, visit The Salvation Army’s website.

Immigrant Settlement Services

Immigration is a large part of Canadian culture, and the YMCA offers immigrant settlement services in major cities across the country. These programs include orientations, befriending programs, work support, and translation services.

Volunteers are matched to new immigrants for 4-6 months, with minimum weekly contact for conversations and general social interaction.

New volunteers are needed all the time, but volunteers for the befriending programs must commit to four months minimum. Volunteers for the other programs have a significant advantage if they speak other languages, but there is no language requirement for most positions.

Unfortunately, there is no online application available for volunteers; apply in person at your local YMCA. Check out YMCA Canada’s website for more details.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada

The WWF-Canada works mainly towards fighting climate change and preserving Canada’s oceans and freshwater resources. With multiple locations and opportunities all over Canada, it’s easy to get involved. Much of the WWF’s administrative staff is made up of volunteers, who keep the organization running smoothly.

Other hands-on opportunities vary regionally and depend on which projects are currently prioritized. Check out your nearest WWF office, which will usually have more opportunities than advertised on the website.

If you want to get involved or find out more information, check out the WWF-Canada’s website.

The Portland Hotel Society

The Portland Hotel Society operates out of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, otherwise known as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” This area is known for its high rates of homelessness, drug addiction and general poverty, as well as mental illness.

The PHS owns and operates numerous services in this neighborhood, including supportive housing, cafes, kitchens and even its own credit union. The PHS is most famous for its tandem operation of Insite, North America’s only (and highly controversial) safe injection site.

To get involved, physically visit one or all of the operations and talk to managers directly. For more information on the Portland Hotel Society, check out the website.

And if you’re interested in getting involved with homelessness and addiction but aren’t in Vancouver, just check around town to see what’s available. Many cities operate similar systems, such as Renascent in Toronto, which is always actively seeking volunteers.

And finally… do your research!

The options listed above are national programs to help you find out what is available and get your feet wet. If you really want a close local community connection, get online or check out the bulletin boards in local city centers. Remember, Canada is a large and diverse country, so opportunities will vary significantly based on your location. Good luck!

Community Connection:

Whether you’re interested in volunteering at home or abroad, our Volunteering Focus Page has numerous resources to get you started.

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