Volunteer Profile: 45 Years of VanDusen Guides

VanDusen Guides

2019 marks Garden Guides’ 45th anniversary — a distinction VanDusen Garden itself will not achieve until next year. “It was Roy Forster’s idea to have Guides,” notes Guide (and team historian) Susan Mahwood, “The first ones were recruited and trained in 1974, the year before the Garden officially opened its doors. Training consisted of regular education meetings in the Kerrisdale Community Centre, and walks in the Garden, led by Roy.” The tradition continues: now Guides lead walks and cart tours in the Garden, sharing what they know and love with our visitors.

In 2018 alone, 15,754 Garden visitors enjoyed one or more of 4,188 walking tours and 1,051 cart tours offered that year.For Heidi Jakop, Director of Volunteer Engagement, these numbers show how Guides help bring our Mission Statement to life. “Connecting people with plants’ is the core of what we do. We are here to educate and inspire our visitors.”Talk with some Guides, and you realize they inspire others by sharing their own sense of inspiration.“I love this place”, says Ashley Lambert-Maberly. An institutional researcher at UBC, he explains, “I love to learn. One reason I became a Guide in 2017 was the chance to keep learning new things myself. When I give a tour, I want to excite our guests to learn more as well.”

Other Guides share that dedication — and an impressive number can also demonstrate it through sheer years of service.At least 15 have been guiding for 20 to 30 years, Penny Pearsonhas 34 years under her belt, and Joan Baker tops the list, with 42 years as a Sunday Guide(much of it as Sunday team captain). Joan once led the Prime Minister of New Zealand on a private tour, but visitors don’t have to be notable to make a tour worthwhile: “I love the Garden, and I love to share what I know.” Then, noting that Guides must respond to visitors’ varied interests and levels of knowledge, she adds,“It’s a challenge which keeps us learning, and has kept me here for so long.”Each Guide is one individual; Heidi Jakop sees the cumulative impact. “People feel welcome at the Garden, and Guides play a big part in creating that atmosphere and connection. They engage with visitors in a personal way, and the visitor then engages more deeply with nature,and with us.” She thinks about that 2018 visitor-tour total. “There’s no way staff could spend an hour each with 15,000 people!”

-written by Penny Williams, Volunteer Writer