Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, March, 2009.
LONDON, Ont. — Bill Corfield is among Canada’s most caring Canadians and resides in one of the country’s most caring cities.
He lives here where nearly one in two residents over the age of 15 volunteered in 2004.
Corfield, 88, was the recipient of the Governor General’s Caring Canadians Award in 2000 for devoting 50 years of community service, which manifests itself in pockets of the city where he’s left an indelible, yet anonymous, mark.
Using specially obtained Statistics Canada figures, Sun Media found a three-way tie between London, Sudbury and Hamilton, Ont., where 46% of residents said they volunteered. The national rate is 45%.
Meanwhile, residents in Calgary, Alta., bill the city as the Volunteer Capital of Canada based on the results of an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for Volunteer Calgary in 2005.
A whopping 71% of the 676 respondents polled in a random phone survey said they volunteered, spending on average about 15 hours a month stepping forward to help others.
“Volunteering is part of western culture, it’s part of being a pioneering community,” says Karen Franco, the director of communications for Volunteer Calgary, a volunteer centre linked to Volunteer Canada, which represents and advocates volunteerism across the ?country.
The west was built, she continues, by early settlers who came together to construct schools, barns and churches.
“Volunteering has long roots in how the community developed. It really goes to show the fabric of who we are in Western Canada.”
That same enterprising spirit lives in this city.
Before Corfield joined the London Kiwanis Club in 1958, the land along the Thames River was barren and lifeless. But he says he saw potential in the abandoned area and helped forge a bold vision that would give local residents shade trees, and kilometres of biking and walking paths.
Today, Kiwanis Park is the second largest park in the city — his proudest achievement.
“It’s a lasting facility for the city,” he says.
As the chair of the Red Cross, Corfield helped establish voluntary blood donor transfusion sites. He compiled a Remembrance Book commemorating the deaths of all the soldiers from London who died fighting in the Second World War which is housed in city hall, and was a charter member of the London Flying Club. The list of his accomplishments spans two pages — singled-spaced.
Corfield is the kind of man who doesn’t mince words. He’ll disarm you with deadpan razor-sharp one-liners.
When asked why he started volunteering, he answers, “I just did it.”
How did he squeeze it in while working as a pilot-reporter for the London Free Press, the director of public relations for what is now Labatt Breweries, and running his own consulting company? Corfield says wryly, “I’m a very efficient fellow. I have 24 hours in a day same as the president of the United States. People waste too much time dickering about.”
For instance, he was a lightning-fast writer, he says.
“My editor used to say if there was the second coming of the Lord, I’d write it in two paragraphs. I said I would cover it in two words: ‘He’s back,’ ” Corfield quips.
It’s volunteers like Corfield whose civic commitment to the community help build a strong social economy, says Ruth MacKenzie, president of Volunteer Canada.
“Volunteering is a sign of community health, community vibrancy and citizenry,” MacKenzie says.
A vibrant volunteer sector fosters a sense of engagement, which is attractive to businesses as well as prospective residents, she adds.
According to StatsCan, volunteer rates are highest among youth, those with university degrees, those with household incomes more than $100,000 and those who attended religious services weekly.
Rural communities are more community minded, MacKenzie says, and revolve around church-basement suppers or longstanding philanthropic institutions.
“A rural lifestyle is more integrated,” she says. “People are not involved to the same degree in big cities. Organizations like the Lions Club and the Rotary Club are not predominant in the urban context.”
When Corfield started volunteering in 1947, the country was starting to heal from the wounds of a devastating war. It was a great period of change, Corfield says, that rallied Canadians together in the spirit of rebuilding.
“You must realize that when the war started, Canada was in a deep depression. Everyone was unemployed and perhaps a bit dispirited,” he recounts. “After the war it was a great opportunity for rebuilding and there was a new energy, new vitality in Canada.”
Corfield is a proud Londoner, who helped build the community he wanted to call home for the rest of his life.
“Londoners help each other when they’re shown the need.”