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Letter: City must do more to support volunteer-run organizations

Started when Thompson had a bigger population and more higher-paying jobs, local non-profits are struggling as volunteerism declines.
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Thompson City Hall

To the Editor:

Your article and editorial regarding the Burntwood Curling Club’s financial dilemma reflects a sad state of affairs for volunteer-based organizations in Thompson. Unfortunately, their problem is indicative of deeper troubles that community leaders must address. Will they?

Many of these organizations came about in the first 20 years of Thompson’s life when the community was growing rapidly and it was filled with miners, tradespeople, and business people. Of course, those were days of prosperity. Jobs and money were everywhere and Thompson residents supported extracurricular causes and projects. Although the average work stay at Inco in the early days was 17 days, many people did remain to build a family, community, and a lifestyle of art, sports, culture, and service.

In the early days, volunteers started the Thompson Zoo, Rotary Fair (Nickel Days), Twilight Waterski Club, Mystery Mountain, the Legion, the curling club, golf club, Heritage North Museum, horse stables, stock car club, TNT swim club, snowmobile club, the hospital auxiliary, the friendship centre and many others such as Rotary, Lions, Kin, Elks, Royal Purple, and IODE. Later the humane society, skateboard park, Rotary splash park, and Spirit Way were also all started by volunteers. They raised their funds mostly from memberships and fundraising.

A community profile in the mid 1970s showed nearly 150 volunteer and non-profit groups. Today there are less than 50!

After the 1990s and the downsizing of Inco, Thompson’s population, businesses and jobs began to dwindle and disposable income money went with it. Many businesses are no longer local owner/operators who used to always support these volunteer organizations with donations and gifts for their bonspiels, tournaments, draws, races, festivals, etc. Today, many businesses are run by absent landlords and local managers have less authority to become community involved and make donations. Many of these services and duties now fall into the hands of the City of Thompson.

Thompson’s challenge today is that the money pool has shrunk with Thompson’s smaller population and lower-paying jobs. The culture of volunteerism is also declining across the country. This is not to take anything away from the sport and youth groups that offer great programming for kids and families at the rec centre. (I hate saying TRCC!) At least, they have an advantage: using city-owned venues.

One of the key differences with non-profits is that there are two kinds — those that are registered non-profit corporations with staff and an office and those that are totally volunteers run out of someone’s home. The Thompson Community Foundation has been very successful with funding to many registered organizations, but smaller volunteer groups fall through the cracks and are not eligible. The city no longer holds trust funds for unincorporated clubs which makes it much more difficult to raise money.

Sadly, local organizations continue to cease one at a time and their lost activities reduce the quality of life and reasons for families to stay in Thompson. The Twilight Waterski Club had to close last year and their building and assets are in a deplorable condition. What a shame! The Norplex Pool is a separate matter but, without it, there is a loss of diving and swim teams. The 60-year-old Thompson Ski Club runs a multi-million winter recreation facility and provides incredible services without a cost to the Thompson taxpayer, yet has its own challenges. Has any councillor been to Mystery Mountain over the past four years to see or support what the club does for the benefit of the public? Spirit Way Inc. built features and hosted international events over 17 years that won awards, attracted visitors, reinvested $3 million into the community and built landmark features. Yet, when the group stopped in 2020, there was not one councillor who commented, thanked, or recognized the dozens of past volunteers.

In 2017, Spirit Way Inc, Boreal Discovery Centre, and Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre hosted AuroraFest150 with 52 events over 10 days. Their Guinness Wolf Howling event was the largest event ever held in Thompson (2,300 people) and made positive national TV news. Sadly, not one councillor attended any event. The Boreal Discovery Centre can be a major asset for Thompson, but has been struggling for years. Volunteers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into a world-class wolf facility that sits in limbo since COVID began. It should get strong city support to becoming a high-profile education, conservation, and tourism centre. Other wildlife advocates in the world are willing to partner. The Heritage North Museum is a jewel that struggles as support from the city has dwindled over the years.

Although the city has recognized single volunteers annually for years, our community leaders must do much more. There are solutions to stop the decline. Will the new council take a proactive approach and work to leverage the resources, fundraising, and labour that these groups provide at a fraction of the cost of what the city can do? Look what happened when volunteers were asked to organize the 2017 Manitoba Winter Games! Cities with negative brands can be turned around by hosting high-profile events or building new attractions. Good governance includes public engagement. Only good can come from this.

Furthermore, the city could organize a focus group workshop to brainstorm ideas and turn them into reality. Set up an ad hoc team to review policies and programs to support volunteer groups. Even designate a councillor to work with and support them. They could donate funds based on incentives that invest money back into the community. There are many provincial and federal grants that volunteers often do not know about. The city should meet with all major service clubs once a year to learn what priorities they have, where they need help, share resources, increase efficiencies with the intent to increase community pride and improve life for the common good.

The curling club and others provide a tremendous service and need city support. Lack of volunteers has many detrimental implications. Let’s not take this issue lightly. I hate to think what will happen if they are mostly gone.


Volker Beckmann


Beckmann has received volunteer awards from the Rotary Club, Community Foundation, the provincial government and the Senate of Canada.

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