Green travel guide > Things to do > Voluntourism in Canada

Voluntourism in Canada

It’s not enough to just lounge by the pool. Travellers want to make a difference on their vacation. And they are.

Canucks like to pitch in. We just can't help it, it’s just who we are.

And for years, agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency have shipped people and resources to regions torn by war, poverty or natural disasters. Under the Katimavik program, youth have helped cultures within our own borders. But we are only just starting to tap the rising global appetite for “philanthropic travel.” Call it “voluntourism.” It’s the next wave.

Voluntourism will be a key growth area in travel over the next four years, according to 2006 Euromonitor International announcement. A 2006 Travel Industry Association and Synovate survey found nearly one-quarter of travellers were considering a volunteer, or service-oriented, vacation.

“The domestic potential for voluntourism within Canada is huge,” says David Clemmons, founder of, a research and information hub focusing on the surging global population of travellers who want to give something back to the places they visit. “There are indigenous cultures that can be supported, and there will be a great number of both environmental and personal challenges ahead as a result of climate change.”

Here, a handful of trips and organizations that connect helping hands with Canadian projects and communities in need:

Eden Valley Reserve, AB
The Global Citizens Network, a US non-profit foundation based in Saint Paul, MN, organizes trips of teams of six to 12 volunteers to spend a week or three living and working, eating local food, and experiencing the challenges and rewards of life in small rural communities. In 2008, the group will take a team onto the Eden Valley Reserve, a Stoney Nakoda First Nations settlement in southern Alberta. Volunteers will be assigned projects designed to maintain their culture, language or way of life. A US $800 fee covers program costs.

Willing Workers on Organic Farms
This international organization is very active in Canada; 600-plus working farms from almost every province and territory accept unpaid labourers from within Canada and around the world. Volunteers join life on a working organic farm or ranch for one or two weeks — pitching in on whatever is required — in exchange for free room and board. Expect hard, rewarding work, and a rich cultural experience.

Operation Beaver
Frontiers Foundation, an Aboriginal nonprofit group based in Toronto, ON, places volunteers in remote First Nations communities in the Northwest Territories, Nunuvat or the Yukon Territory. Volunteers work in either educational settings — teaching and tutoring youth — or a housing construction program, building or renovating homes for Northern disadvantaged peoples.

Conservation Holidays with The Land Conservancy
Help build duck nesting boxes on the Horsefly River in the Chilcotin, or remove invasive species from sensitive Gulf Islands ecosystems, or pitch in on a working Vancouver Island farm. This non-profit charitable land trust puts willing hands to work helping to protect and restore a wide variety of Canadian wilderness and heritage sites in British Columbia.

Earthwatch Institute
Earthwatch Institute is a US Maynard, MA-based non-profit organization matching volunteers with scientists conducting research in a wide variety of fields — including expeditions to investigate climate-change impacts in the far north. Volunteers help underwrite the costs of expeditions, which can run from $395 to $4,000.

By James Glave