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Hometown Heroes: Billy Barker Days volunteers

The beloved Quesnel festival only happens because of the work of its dedicated volunteers
Whether it's directors throughout the year, members of the society or volunteers running the day-to-day events of the festival, volunteers are crucial to Billy Barker Days' success.

Billy Barker Days runs in Quesnel from July 18th to July 21st, and it just wouldn't be possible without the hard work of a dedicated team of volunteers.

The people who put time into the festival range from directors who work on it year-round, to members who sell the Billy Buttons that help fund the event, to volunteers who make sure each day the festival runs smoothly.

Taylor Gilkerson is the office manager for Billy Barker Days. She used to volunteer for the festival because she loved the festival growing up and wanted to engage with the community. She said the event's volunteers are extremely valuable.

"Billy Barker Days is completely run by volunteers. It would not be able to run at all if we didn't have them," she said. "They spend a lot of their time doing it and they do a very good job."

The festival started in 1973 with a small $3,000 budget. They've missed two years due to fires and the pandemic but this year's 48th Billy Barker Days has a budget of $150,000

Some of the dedicated volunteers have been involved for decades. With some of the festival's founders still popping into the office and helping out where they can.

"A bunch of the lifers love to dip their toes back in and help out wherever they can," Gilkerson said. "They feel a lot of sentiment towards Billy Barker Days so they definitely step in to help out."

Directors are volunteers who have massive planning jobs. They reach out to local businesses and organizations, they plan the events throughout the festival and manage things like souvenirs and the parade. They also have members of the society who sell the Billy Buttons for the gold nugget raffle, they volunteer their time to go to businesses and set up tables in the community to sell the buttons which are vital to the festival's success.

There are also volunteers who help the day-to-day events like serving food at the seniors day event, setting up and taking down tents and being available throughout Billy Barker Days to make sure the festival runs smoothly.

"The volunteers are literally everything," Gilkerson said. "Bringing a festival that lasts quite a few days and goes across the entire town, it just gets everybody really excited."

Maureen Murray has been involved as a director since 1999, she said Billy Barker Days gets everyone involved including community organizations and businesses.

"They know they're going to get more people here on this weekend then they're going to get (any other) weekend," Murray said. She said the auto club, downtown association, rodeo and the whole community benefit from the festival.

"It's now getting harder to get volunteers. Mainly they're people like me, 60-, 70-year-olds," Murray said.

With free entertainment on stage at LeBourdais, the Gold Dust Mall on Reid Street, a midway with rides, crash to pass, the rodeo and so many other events the festival is a wonderful time for Quesnel and none of it would happen without the team of volunteers.

While the festival appreciates its dedicated team, they're hoping to get younger volunteers so the festival can step in to help it continue on. Gilkerson said while it can be difficult for youth to get the time to volunteer, it is vital to the success of Billy Barker Days.

"There are some younger people in their 30s and 40s starting to creep in but it would be amazing to get some more and some more new ideas," Gilkerson said. She said as some of the volunteers get older the physical aspects of the festival can be harder for them and having young people who don't have bad knees and bad backs would make it more comfortable for the people who have put decades into running the beloved festival.

"If nothing else (volunteering) gets you out in the community and supporting the community, I think it's a very sweet thing," Gilkerson said. "And it's good to be a part of keeping it running and continuing into the future."

About the Author: Austin Kelly

Born and raised in Surrey, I'm excited to have the opportunity to start my journalism career in Quesnel.
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