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Grumpy Vancouver has secret squad of Olympics enthusiasts

October 29th, 2009 · 32 Comments

My favourite kinds of stories are the ones that break stereotypes. In my fantasy world, we’d constantly be covering stories about Calgarians having the highest rate of art-museum visitorship in the country, Torontonians taking more yoga classes than anyone else, single mothers being more likely to get promotions to management positions and the like.

So this story I have in today’s Globe — about the high rates of Olympic volunteerism here in laid-back Vancouver — particularly appealed. I stumbled across this when I was researching a previous story about how many city employees were being drafted to do Olympics work in different municipalities. In Surrey was, “Only two. Our volunteers are doing everything else.” That piqued my curiosity.

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  • “More than 70,000 people applied for the 25,000 positions that VANOC announced in February, 2008.”

    Why, then, are we paying public servants to “volunteer” at the games and giving VANOC employees $30m in bonuses?

  • Darcy McGee

    +1 Brenton.

    +1 indeed.

  • Joseph Jones

    A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a fellow volunteer at a nonprofit. I was told how hard it was to get a volunteer position, with specific mention of two other nonprofits that were full up. Don’t overlook what this economy does to opportunities for employment – paid or unpaid.

  • gmgw

    I tend to place Olympic volunteers in the same general category as I do devout Christians, people who enjoy eating at McDonalds, and Celine Dion fans– people whose lives revolve around cultural phenomena (short- or long-term) I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. On the rare occasions when I have encountered anyone crazy enough to believe not only that the Olympics are a Great And Good Thing but have even gone so far as to volunteer for this ghastly circus, I have barely suppressed an urge to immediately flee in mixed panic and revulsion.

    It could be said that the belief that the Olympics are in some way beneficial to the communities (literal and figurative) on which they impact represents the last great triumph of trickle-down economics. All the rest of us who will be forced to stay here against our will and endure the c0ming madness will simply have to hunker down and endure, and remember not to engage in any potenially suspicious behaviour while near any Olympic sites lest we be machine-gunned by nervous military personnel. Coming in from the airport in a taxi the other night, returning from ten day’s escape in a much warmer climate, and viewing those giant illuminated O-rings which currently deface Grant McConachie Way, I felt much the same level of enthusiasm I would have felt on encountering a giant illuminated swastika.

    OK. Having got that little rant off my chest, I also want to point out that City employees have not been given a choice about their availablity for Olympic support duty– all City employees have been denied leave during the Olympics period, lest their services be required for purposes as yet unspecified. There are a few exceptions: Library employees, for instance, were tentatively offtered the right to take time off but only upon application and with a very good reason, eg. urgent family matters; or, ironically, Olympics volunteership.

    The end result of this will likely be a considerable upsurge in sick days among City employees in February, certainly among those who have been “volunteered”. This raises interesting questions about what might happen to City workers who are unilaterally seconded to Olympics support duty and who flatly refuse said duty due to anti-Olympics feelings. Stay tuned on this one.

  • storm

    Here at the hall, we call it being “voluntold”.

  • Mick


    Seriously, folks…

  • Urb Anwriter

    GMGW! Yes!!

    My terminal grouchiness predisposes a level of angst and anger leaving me inarticulate; incapable of discussing ‘the event that cannot be named’ rationally (as if any such event is rational) with any but my own inner demons. So your comments are much appreciated.

    I only wish the volunteers in Surrey could get the full effect of several thousand ‘rent a cops,’ a zillion assorted armed individuals, and enough helicopter over-flights (and I suspect those will be 24/7 during most of February) to deafen any dog.

    But I begin to digress.

    Good comment.

  • Wally Epuc

    the people I know who volunteered for O duties were really looking forward to the break from the tedium. They have all been told they’re not needed.

  • Urb Anwriter

    Another way to look at it is this; even with the conscripted volunteers, the math works out to about 1.9% of the population.

    VPL ‘Vancouver population’ circa 611,869

    Approx. 11,660 volunteers (including conscripts)

    11,660/611,869 = 1.9% of the population is volunteering. And out of my entire circle of friends and acquaintances not one is volunteering, paying for a ticket, or willing to admit that they actually voted for this armed debacle.

    And should you have doubts about the armed personnel, Bud Mercer “told councillors that a force of 7,000 police, 5,000 private security personnel, and 4,500 members of the Canadian Forces will be deployed in the mega event.” (1) That’s 11,500 armed and dangerous people running around convinced that they know what’s best. The other 5,000 private security don’t, as far as I know, qualify for guns.

    And would I trust people who can’t even plan an ‘exercise’ properly (2) to actually run around the streets, armed, and if history is any guide, far too full of themselves?

    Then again, given the inability of anyone, ever, connected with the organizing, production, and marketing of the ‘event that cannot be named’ (now copyrighted) to get the price right, I would not expect that any of this farce will work out the way anyone expected. Those that promote it, can’t, or won’t, come clean about the price.

    The athletes, and I’d like to thank them all for staying home, would be a far greater benefit to society if they took all the time, energy, and money they spend on this charade with kids wherever they live. I mean, really, can you just imagine how many kids would love a ride on a luge? If they could afford the money for luge. If they could afford the free track time.

    And I’d like to thank them all, each and every one, for their contribution to making Vancouver an armed camp for the better part of two months. Perhaps we could just move the whole deal to Baghdad’s Green Zone – I’m sure the Iraqi’s wouldn’t notice the increase in armed personnel, the guys (and girls, I’m sure) with guns could really feel ‘part of the team.


    No. I just don’t believe in the commercial creed that we call ‘amateur,’ the event is no more amateur, and no more believable, than ‘amateur’ porn. I don’t see any need to have over 10,000 armed (insert favorite term here) running loose in Vancouver and adjacent areas. Given the track record of the RCMP over a century I’m not all that sure I have faith in the timeliness, or legality, of their actions. Ditto the VPD.

    I mean, given the absolute, undeniable, and physically obvious fact that the same Spanish-speaking drug dealers have been in business in the DES for a decade do you really expect anyone to believe in the efficacy of policing? And these are people standing on the sidewalk, all day, and in relatively regular ‘shifts.’

    And they’re going to protect me during the ringed farce?



  • Living in the City

    It appears that a fairly sizeable number of us will be assigned/seconded/voluntold (my preferred term) to “supplementary by-law enforcement.”

    Which I assume means “chasing down protesters and ambush marketers putting up posters and handing out flyers.” Oh the joy.

  • Frothingham

    @gmgw. your opening paragraph had me in stitches. Well done lad! I think you have captured the view amoung many of the folks that i encounter. You have the genesis of a great article. I encourage you to develop it further.

  • Frothingham

    @Urb. the whole security issue borders on insanity. it is most definitely obscene:
    Obscenity (in Latin obscenus, meaning “foul, repulsive, detestable”), is a term that is most often used in a legal context to describe expressions (words, images, actions) that offend the prevalent sexual morality of the time. It is often replaced by the word salaciousness.

    Despite its long formal and informal use with a sexual connotation, the word still retains the meanings of “inspiring disgust” and even “inauspicious; ill-omened”, as in such uses as “obscene profits”, “the obscenity of war”, etc. It can simply be used to mean profanity, or it can mean anything that is taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting.

  • Denis

    The cops will be rolling in overtime cash. The local cop in the Victoria area said every cop in the district will be “Protecting” “The Torch” My God, you would think it was a Brinks Truck full of money, not one of about 17,000 other ones.

  • Otis Krayola

    For those who missed it, last weekend’s Globe Focus/Books section featured a cover story on the history of the Olympic torch and relay.

    Invented and instituted by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Games.


    Seriously, folks!

  • gmgw

    Thanks. It’s tempting to extrapolate on my comments, but as I live uncomfortably close to the Olympic Village I’m concerned that, were I to wax overly negative about the- er– Games in a public forum, I might be woken in the middle of the night by a heavy pounding on the door only to find Itchy, Squishy and Crotchy (or whatever the hell their names are) waiting outside to drag me off to Olympics Re-Education Camp. As Groucho Marx once said: “If the government could read our minds, we’d all be in jail”. For the powerless, thought-crime is the last great act of defiance.

  • gmgw

    Otis and Mick: It was an analogy, intended to convey visceral feelings evoked by a visual stimulus I found deeply disturbing at the time. Calm down already.

  • I have often read that happy people live longer than unhappy people. I thought about this as I read some of the postings above.

  • Michael,

    I am eighty years old, and after a be-medaled, as recently as last year, professional career, survived a, supposed, terminal dose of cancer.

    Yet I am as happy as I have ever been . . .

    Yet I love dissing vacuous-ities like you . . . f

    For god’s sake man get that ridiculous smirk off your face and say something useful . . .

  • Hoarse Whisperer

    I second that emotion, Michael Geller.

    One day, I hope we can start a thread over exactly what makes Lower Mainlanders so dyspeptic. Is it something in the water?

    And please, don’t start listing a litany of woes (homelessness, DTES, H1Ni, etc) that I am pretty sure about 95% of the posters here will do absolutely nothing about—other than bitch. Volunteering to make your city a better place? Charititable giving of money or time? How absolutely middle class, I can hear the sneerers sniff. Personally, I think it’s time the usual suspects give up the sanctimonious huffing and puffing—if only for a short time— and put some of that energy towards improving this place.

    Here’s the challenge: You don’t “like” the Olympics. Fine. Then, I challenge you to volunteer over the games period, and give your time towards whatever venture you choose. Further, I challenge you to gather with “un-like” minded people (e.g. not bitter) and spread the love, somewhere, helping someone.

    But I expect that many will be too busy, “escaping” town or maybe, hmmm…I don’t know…watching the men’s gold medal hockey game?

  • Frothingham

    @Michael: I am as happy as a clam! Do you not enjoy good satire and the witticism shown by the many poster’s to this FB blog! I sure do! There was a french philosopher ( can’t find the source) who said: Those who look at the world with their heart will be sad, Those who look at the world with their minds will laugh. (paraphrased).

    And so it goes…

    PS I am with Sinclair Lewis: “The booster’s enthusiasm is the motive force which builds up our American cities. Granted. But the hated knocker’s jibes are the check necessary to guide that force. In summary then, we do not wish to knock the booster, but we certainly do wish to boost the knocker.”

  • Dr. Freud

    I am with you on this one Urbanismo! Gellar is the best example of a 180 degrees turnaround in recent years. I would call him a political chameleon but that would do no justice to the poor lizard. Have you read this guy’s posts? Mother Teresa would be so proud to see her work continued with such fervor. He agrees with everybody, congratulates everybody, admire everybody, smiles at everybody, laughs at jokes, good or bad, no beef whatsoever, whatever keeps his persona afloat in the public domain. One might suspect group narcissism here.

  • gmgw

    Well, Hoarse W., personally I’d rather pull out one my molars with a rusty pair of pliers than be forced to watch *any* kind of hockey game, professional or (purportedly) amateur; so I guess I’ll just keep on doing what I’ve been doing for quite a while: Participating actively in my local community association, serving on the governing body of my building, liaising and lobbying regularly on behalf of my various communities with various departments of two and sometimes three levels of government; supporting local arts and cultural organizations to the best of my abilities by regular attendance and occasional volunteering; and in general trying to stay aware of and informed on important local, national and global issues– and passing on the information to as many people as seems appropriate. Among other things.

    I’d still rather be able to pack my bags and get the hell out of town this coming February, though.

    By the by, what *you* been up to lately, ol’ sod?

  • Hoarse Whisperer


    Glad to hear it. Sounds like a lot of committee work…hope it is bearing fruit.

    I like to take a hands on approach and actually meet n’greet on a pretty personal basis.

    That would include:

    Serve dinner with my mom at a DTES church (we don’t belong, but it just seems like a good thing to do) to people down on their luck;

    Organize a canned food drive with work colleagues for the holiday season;

    Honour my late father and those who served by helping out at Remembrance Day this year;

    Work on politics, though am having a really hard time finding candidates to love. Hmm. Maybe I don’t have to love them—just ensure that they actually can do what they say they will do.

    Oh yeah, am getting vetted for Big Sisters, which gives you a clue as to my gender. That would be “ol’ sodette” , thank you very much!

    I also volunteered for several years at palliative care, partly because of my own need to face my puny mortality. Little did I realize what a life affirming—and humbling–experience it would turn out to be. Thus, I feel compelled to be that “glass half full” type before you now.

    I guess I believe in the old saying, “To whom much is given, much is required”. For me that means taking action versus just grousing about things. I like to see and make things happen on both the micro and macro levels. Keeps hope alive, you know?

    There. Is my halo on straight? 😉

    What about everyone else? What are you doing to make life in Vancouver better? Who’s life(s) are you affecting in a positive way? Have you seen the evidence that your efforts are helping?

  • Michael, I make no apologies for my impatience! As I chaired the AIBC’s housing committee, late ’70’s +/-, your . . . errr . . . smiles were not exactly constructive.

    However . . .

    While you were somnambulating others were exploring: Fritz Perles, I’m talking way back now, but in our time, at his Cowichan Funny Farm were giving people an opportunity to release their pent up, yet tidily hidden, emotions. To be in his sessions was both distressing and revealing.

    Big Sur, was another: maybe you are familiar. Alan Watts, George Brown’s, that I attended at Cecil Green, where revealing the smug false front of your West Coast happy, happiness . . .

    Which brings me to today.

    I so am happy you are secure on your little Island. Cosy, no doubt, in your, essentially, gated Fraser redoubt you may be quite unaware of how others are faring.

    “I have often read that happy people live longer than unhappy people. I thought about this as I read some of the postings above.”

    What an insensitive condescending insult.

    Some less fortunate, Vancouverites, lacking a secure CHMC pension could well interpret your remark as an affront.

    Even contributors to this blog evince some anxiety: especially over the coming Olympic disruptions and ensuing debt . . .

    Homeless street people are clearly evident if we wish to look: I’ll bet they rack over where they’ll next score!

    Many, many others, well-dressed, big cars, worry about more mundane and legal relief mechanisms: invisibly, racked by anxiety, they worry about their kids, their mortgage, worry about their jobs.

    And you, sir, have the impertinence to claim, “I often read . . .”

    Shallow comes to mind . . . you haven’t a clue!

  • “Those who look at the world with their heart will be sad, Those who look at the world with their minds will laugh. ”

    attribution goes to Camus I think.

    “That would be “ol’ sodette” , thank you very much!”

    Funny, I was thinking that was the case last night. (yeah, yeah, anyone can claim 20/20 vision in hindsight)

    I may have referred to you as male in a diff. thread H.W. and apologize for the error if offence was taken.

  • Although the expression:

    “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think”

    is attributed to Horace Walpole according to Bartlett’s.

  • Bill Lee

    Volunteers? When I was at the Sydney Olympics, 3/4 of the volunteers disappeared after first few days having collected their uniform and finding it wasn’t what they expected. However, the Committee trumpeted 47,000 volunteers. And even many events had ‘other athletes’ (defeated, finished or otherwise at loose ends) as the main bleachers audience you saw on TV at the minor sports events. Few people took tickets for these smaller sports.

    As for the army, they quite cleverly spent the two weeks in the sub-basements of downtown department stores and such places in Sydney awaiting calls. Now this was a simpler time before the New York City plane crashes which have given the military and paramilitary implicit permission to play the heavies-with-guns on TV and in real life.

    There were clever satires on that everyone watched on TV (“The Games”) that were a take-off on the SOCOG Olympic committees, so close to home and with a weekly changing script that the Committee thought there was a leak.
    And then the nightly show that even foreign athletes wanted to appear on The Dream with the ‘other’ mascot : Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat while Roy and HG cracked Aussie jokes about the whole Olympic charade. “Roy Slaven” and “H.G. Nelson” were there stage names. They did an Australia-only series for Turin too.
    Sadly Vancouver could do that thing here as there are few studios around anymore for acting. And the cuts at the CBC for anything that is not cheap reality shows mean no drama from the west coast.

    But Sydney was a summer Olympics, larger, more sports, more nations to defect, etc. than the winter ones.
    And really, the troops are here to protect the Olympic family (Consider that Torino (Turin) had 2500 athletes vs 10,000 at Sydney.
    And those 2500 were supported by 10,000 sponsors guests, 2300 officials and 2700 NBC staff and other media. A ratio of 20 hangers-on to one athlete.

    And we have several months to endure what commentator this morning called “[media] hyperventilating over the Nazis’ contribution to Olympic hoopla, the torch relay.”
    I do hope that something ‘goes wrong’ so we can laugh about it.

    As to the electric Swastika at the airport, the 1936 Olympics had their ‘clean-ups’ too and local symbols and faces just for the visitor. I’m just reading Philip Kerr’s “Berlin Noir” trilogy and the first book of this hard-boiled detective mystery set in Nazi Germany, “March violets” has little details of 1936 Berlin like a let-up in banning of some books, films and journals, the taking down of street bulletin boards of the more virulent nature, etc.
    I imagine more street impressions could be gotten from George L. Mosse’s books and Richard Mandell’s more narrow view of the Nazi Olympics, or David Large.

    I’d love for some press to get to a pub where the disgruntled RCMP security runners sit around complaining about their overtime, their sore flat feet, and the general silliness of such a long torch tour with mostly random runners.

    Meanwhile, achoo!

  • Hoarse Whisperer

    Ah, Chris Keam,

    It would be keeping in the “spirit’ of certain members of Fabula’s fan base—yea, verily, even some on this thread—to, how shall I put this in my delicate girlish way? —rip ya a new one for DARING to ASSUME THAT I WAS A MAN!!!

    However, I am tickled to think that I am writing about things political in such a way that gender identification becomes irrelevent (oh, if wishes were nickels, I would be a millionare(ess) many times over).

    No glass ceiling on this here site! We Are All Canucks.

    Or something like that.

  • Quatchi

    I have a number of friends and family volunteering. Me? I’ll be selfishly enjoying some men’s quarter finals hockey, women’s gold snowboarding, and a lot of partying.

    I’m really excited, btw. Like, ridiculously excited.

  • Frothingham

    @hoarse “what makes Lower Mainlanders so dyspeptic.”

    …. well anyone who ‘fails to swallow’ the media pablum fed to them lot stock and barrel should be congratulated! I think it healthy to view propaganda with a dyspeptic eye. … a perfectly noble trait.

  • With unemployment so high, a great number of people have tried to get a job, if only for a few weeks. To say that the spirit of volunteerism is high is misinformed.

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