What goes around really does come around, especially for volunteers. Nearly half of Canadian adults volunteer their time, according to Statistics Canada. If you’re among them, chances are you’ve been spoiled with some pretty amazing deals. If you’re not, you’re missing out. Many reputable organizations and major events rely on volunteers. In return for your time, some offer thank-you gifts, event merchandise or, even better, the chance to partake for free!
If the work is related to your interests, you can save money on something you would have paid for anyway. If you’re not sure where you’d like to volunteer, consider opportunities that will expand your horizons. “One of the things that is fantastic about [the volunteer programs] is that people get to make a meaningful contribution to their national heritage,” says Ellen Bertrand, director of external relations at Parks Canada (which has positions in every single province and territory). There are loads of great volunteer jobs across the country, you just have to find what’s right for you. Need some inspiration? We’ve come up with 10 of the best gigs from coast to coast.
Kejimkujik National Park
The gig: Be a loon watcher for one day in the spring and one day in late summer at Kejimkujik National Park. Help the park survey its loon population by spending the day in canoes paddling in the park’s lakes. You don’t have to be an expert, all that’s required is that you’re comfortable in a canoe. If you’re more the backcountry type, you can drive to one of the park’s south (and most remote) lakes to monitor the populations there.
The date: August 24, 2014 (next listed date)
The reward: As a volunteer loon watcher, you get free access to the park for the day. Canoes and equipment will also be provided for you. If you’re volunteering in the most remote lakes, the park will give you one free night of camping in the park the night before the job.
Pan Am Games Toronto 2015
The gig: Next year Toronto will be the host of the Pan Am Games. Join 20,000 volunteers to prepare the field of play, take tickets, usher spectators to their seats, shuttle athletes and dignitaries to venues or participate in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. If you want to volunteer in the preparation before the Games, help plan events, transportation and community outreach.
The date: July 10–26, 2015
The reward: This is the third largest multi-sport games in the world and only the third time Canada has ever hosted so participating in this international event is a very rare opportunity. As well as attending the Games, volunteers get invited to watch the Opening Ceremonies with performances by Cirque de Soleil, a chance to meet the athletes, access to exclusive promotions and events, discounts on all merchandise and meals for every shift.
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
The gig: During the film festival, assist at a theatre venue or box office directing lines, taking tickets and scanning passes. Some volunteers help out with the marketing side of TIFF, manage microphones during Q&A sessions, or even greet guests at the airport.
The date: September 4–14, 2014
The reward: Volunteers receive vouchers which can be exchanged for tickets to screenings during the festival and year-round at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. They also receive a T-shirt, swag bag, discounts on memberships and merchandise at the TIFF shop, as well as invitations to special events, exclusive preview screenings and appreciation parties. Plus, you get 10 days of spotting your favourite celebrities on the red carpet!
The gig: The 3,500 volunteers can work in any of 35 different areas doing anything from serving beer in beer tents to helping out on the green team or working backstage. Volunteers must be able to work at least five four-hour shifts during the 10-day festival.
The date: Next summer: TBA
The reward: Volunteer appreciation night has a buffet-style dinner with live music and a chance to win raffle prizes. During every shift, workers will be provided with a meal, and best of all: once you work your first shift, you’re given a pass granting you full access to any of the shows during your spare time. So check the line-up and get ready to see your favourite artists for free!
YMCA, Downtown Montreal
The gig: At the YMCA, you can help out in the language school, youth program, front desk or instruct classes. Find whatever best suits your area of interest! Volunteers are scheduled for regular shifts varying depending on the job position.
The date: Consult with the YMCA
The reward: After the first three months, volunteers are given a free YMCA membership. (Savings that add up to around $70/month)
The gig: Generations of families have been volunteering at Folklorama, a now 45-year-old Winnipeg festival and the largest multicultural festival of its kind in the world. Join 20,000 volunteers either in advance preparation throughout the year, or work the pavilions during the event volunteering in food or bar services, admissions, cleaning and recycling, or assist with group tours or show production.
The date: August 3–16, 2014
The reward: Attend the festival and be a part of preserving cultures. Go to any of the volunteer appreciation nights (depending on which pavilion you worked in) and potentially win an award for your work at the festival and receive small gifts like festival souvenirs and gift cards.
The Calgary Marathon
The gig: Both runners and non-runners will have fun volunteering at The Calgary Marathon. Having celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, it’s Canada’s oldest marathon (and one of the busiest). Volunteer by spending the day in the cheering section, cleaning up, giving out water to thirsty runners or give your time at the race expo handing out bib numbers and signing up racers.
The date: June 7, 2015
The reward: Volunteers get an item of race swag (i.e. dry-fit T-shirt, socks, headband, etc.) and free entry to the Dino Dash, a five or 10-kilometre Calgary race course valued at about $30-$40. Attend the volunteer appreciation party and get treated to a night of pizza and beer.
The gig: Assist with Symphony Splash, Victoria Symphony’s outdoor concert event and Canada’s largest outdoor symphony event. Symphony Splash attracts up to 40,000 people in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Set up tents, unload trucks and help out in other areas that will ensure the event runs smoothly.
The date: August 3, 2014
The reward: Get a sneak peek at the performances all day, attend the volunteer pizza party, get a T-shirt and a gift voucher for any concert performed by the Victoria Symphony in 2014-2015.
Yoho National Park
The gig: This is the perfect opportunity for those who love living the outdoor lifestyle. Be a campground host at Yoho greeting visitors and providing them with park and camping information. The job requires volunteers to work for four hours a day, five days of the week for a minimum two-week period.
The date: Check with the park’s available spots
The reward: Once you volunteer for the minimum two weeks, you receive a year-long free pass to Yoho National Park. (One day pass for an adult costs $9.80) Camping during your volunteer stint will also be free so you just have to bring your tent or trailer and do whatever you like for the remaining 20 hours each day.
Frontiers Foundation: Operation Beaver
The gig: Work in communities in the Yukon, Nunavut or Northwest Territories to improve housing or education for three or 10-month contracts depending on the position.
The date: Dependent on job
The reward: This is for the adventurous person who wants to combine volunteering with travel and can commit to a long-term placement. Food, living expenses, medical coverage, winter clothing and travel costs will be covered plus you will get a weekly spending allowance of $50 and the chance to experience Canada’s north.