‘People are just crying for help’: Shortage of volunteers hurting local fall fairs


At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, there was already a long line of people waiting to enter the Comox Valley Exhibition in Courtenay.

The problem? Not enough volunteers to open both sides of the ticket booth.

“Honestly, we need at least 100 volunteers to make this successful and I think this year we have about 45, so we’re definitely struggling,” said Shawn Wood, a board member with the Comox Valley Exhibition. “We’re doing the best we can, we’ve got people working 16-hour days down here.”

It’s the 149th year of the CV Exhibition, and a popular new attraction this year is the strongman and woman competition.

There are also logger sports, equestrian events, 4H displays, rides and a cool and refreshing dog jump competition.

But none of it would be possible without volunteers putting it all together, and if you’re a fair organizer you know it’s harder and harder to find people who will volunteer their time.

“I volunteer all up and down the Island now and people are just crying for help, and just nobody’s answering that call,” added Wood.

In Port Alberni, the 78-year-old Alberni District Fall Fair is having similar issues and organizers are legitimately concerned about making it to 79 years.

“It’s all run by volunteers and service groups and last year we had more people than ever through the gates. But we had less people doing it and it burned out a lot of people, unfortunately,” said Keith Gagnon, entertainment director of the Alberni District Fall Fair.

Like many volunteers, Gagnon has a full-time job but balances volunteer hours to keep the fair going.

The fair runs this year from Sept. 7-10.

“We need everyone from ground maintenance to sign painting to decoration to trade skills, a little bit of everything,” he said.

So why are few people volunteering?

“It’s so hard to get people to make ends meet and try to keep their heads above water that volunteering, I think is the last thing on their mind,” said Gagnon.

Jim Lilburn has been volunteering for 40 years and at the Comox Valley Exhibition for 18.

“The older people seem to be the longer volunteers, the younger ones don’t seem to stay too much with it,” he said.

But 16-year-old Isabella Barber is trying her best to buck that trend.

“This is my second official year of volunteering here,” said Barber. “I just do it because it gets me out of the house and they need the help here.”

To help at the Alberni District Fall Fair, visit www.albernifair.com.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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