Skip to content

Beaver Valley Outreach marks 40-year history, humble beginnings

Beaver Valley Outreach has been delivering critical services and programs in The Blue Mountains for 40 years, and it all started around a ping-pong table in a basement

Beaver Valley Outreach has officially kicked off celebrations of its 40th anniversary.

On Jan. 19, BVO held a special flag-raising event to commemorate its anniversary. A large group of dignitaries, supporters and volunteers gathered for the special ceremony.

After the event, board chair Cathy Innes, executive director Carolyn Letourneau, director Norine Baron and long-time supporter Barb Swanson discussed the history of BVO with CollingwoodToday.

BVO started as a small group of women distributing warm clothes and Christmas hampers to those in need. In the early days they stored the donations they received on a ping pong table in the basement of Muriel and Ian Shaw's house.

From those roots, the organization has grown into a key agency delivering a wide range of social services to the community with a budget of more than $1 million and 18 full-time employees.

It’s safe to say: there have been a lot of changes in 40 years.

BVO offers a number of programs that serve all ages in the community. They include a school breakfast program, a community garden, a licensed childcare centre, emergency services for those in need, the good food box, New Territory for Seniors, Seniors Without Walls, volunteer and youth engagement and many more. Full details about the programs can be found on the BVO website.

Baron has been involved with BVO since its inception and continues to serve on the board today.

“It’s hard to believe. I wasn’t the most willing board member in those days,” Baron said with a laugh. “Hazel South, she kind of dragged a few of us in. You didn’t say no to Hazel. When  somebody you trust, love and admire asks you to do something, you probably will.”

Baron said in the early years, BVO was a loose group of local grassroots residents trying to make a difference in the community. That changed five years later when provincial funding became available.

“The Ministry of Community and Social Services came to us and offered funding. It was $5,000, that’s how much we received. That was a huge amount,” said Baron.

BVO wasn’t incorporated at the time and, to receive the funding, had to complete that process. With the help of local lawyer Paul Shaw, Baron and Swanson wrote bylaws and the group achieved charitable status. Shortly after, BVO held a meeting with various community organizations that might be interested in assisting with their goals and programs. Groups such as the Kinettes, Kinsmen, Rotary Club, Town of Thornbury, Lions Club, churches and the school were all present.

“I remember that night,” said Barb Swanson, a long-time BVO supporter. “It was at Grace United Church, the whole room was full.”

Baron said the funding enabled President Diana McGregor to become BVO’s first coordinator, working 10-12 hours per week.

“She was a real mover and shaker,” Baron said of McGregor and also praised the hard work of Diana Dolmer, who also served as BVO coordinator.

As the organization grew and became more involved in community services it required more space to operate. Over the decades BVO has called a number of different locations home. Initially, they were in the basement of the Shaws' house. Later the group was able to secure a small office in what is now a local real estate office.

“We had a desk and a phone,” said Baron.

Later, BVO was located in what was known as the old creamery building in Clarksburg. Then the organization then took a giant leap and purchased the former fire hall building in Thornbury on Bruce Street that became the Treasure Shop.

“It was very forward thinking of the board to purchase that building,” said current board chair Cathy Innes. “It gave us equity and enabled us to purchase this building.”

“This building” is the former Piper’s Restaurant on Highway 26 adjacent to The Blue Mountains town hall. BVO moved to purchase the property when it became obvious that they had outgrown the Bruce Street location. It is a large building in a high-profile location that suits the needs of BVO.

Innes recalls attending a meeting at a bank in Collingwood with the late Marty Lacey to inquire about financing for the purchase of the Piper's building.

“We said: probably a million should do it,” she said, laughing when remembering the bank representative had to call her supervisor, who then had to call his supervisor. “That was an interesting time.”

Today, Carolyn Letourneau serves as executive director. She fondly remembers first discussing the job with previous executive director Teresa Pearson.

Ironically, they met for lunch at Piper's Restaurant, which is now BVO headquarters.

“She was explaining Christmas hampers to me. I think I was sitting there like a deer in the headlights,” said Letourneau. “Here we are 20 years later, I just did my 20th year.”

For the entire 40-year history of the BVO, the organization has received strong support from the local community. The Rotary Club has always been a strong partner and the Town of The Blue Mountains has been a key supporter throughout the years.

“It’s a great partnership. [The town] recognizes the value of what we do. It’s good to work with individual councillors and the mayor. We do have champions on council,” said Innes.

Three of BVO’s highest-profile endeavours are the BVO preschool, the Treasure Shop and the community garden.

Letourneau said taking on the childcare centre in 2011 was a major leap for the BVO.

“We took the risk of taking on a full-time childcare facility,” she said. “It doubled our budget.”

The preschool operates in a portable at Beaver Valley Community School. It offers 39 childcare spaces (15 toddler and 24 preschool) and employs full- and part-time staff.

The Treasure Shop thrift store is known for its great bargains and is the go-to place for anybody wishing to donate items to be used for the community’s benefit.

“It’s really our engine,” said Letourneau. “It’s the reason we don’t have to go out and ask the community for funds.”

Letourneau is very proud of the work done to establish the community garden.

“In 2019 we took on the community garden under Kimberley Edwards’ leadership. This has proven to be a great fit for BVO where we have a few community garden plots that are grown specifically to benefit our emergency services and food is given out to households who can use the fresh garden produce,” she said “We are working on is a barrier-free food cupboard alongside our community garden, where we will keep a stock of canned goods and garden produce from the garden enabling people to have access to food 24/7. We will also incorporate a free little library in the shed giving folks access to books as well.”

The Blue Mountains Mayor Andrea Matrosovs praised BVO for its 40-year commitment to serving the community.

“The BVO team has written a success story in our community for four decades. In the beginning, it was a few dedicated women coming together to meet the essential needs of residents in our community. Today, it is a thriving resource in our town providing programs and services for children, youth, adults and seniors fuelled by a commitment of both staff and volunteers,” said the mayor.

Matrosovs said the community’s volunteer spirit is the backbone of the BVO.

“Volunteers come to help at BVO because they want to give back to their community by supporting the efforts of BVO,” she said. “And then they stay because they build relationships with each other, staff and other members of the community. It’s a win-win-win for everybody.”

BVO is planning various events throughout the year to celebrate its 40th anniversary. They are also looking for testimonials and stories from the community about BVO. The organization is also engaging the community through a survey about what services and programs are needed. The survey results will assist with the preparation of a new strategic plan for the group.

“We want to be around for the next 40 years,” said Innes. “It’s never boring here.”

Letourneau added that BVO continues to seek volunteers to join the organization. She said, like many volunteer-based groups, BVO was hit hard by the COVID pandemic. BVO currently has a volunteer base of approximately 150 people - that number was 350 pre-pandemic.

“Community engagement will continue to be a big part of what we do,” said Letourneau.

Reader Feedback

About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
Read more