Behind the Scenes: Fay Weller, a volunteer with a vision

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, April 19 2016

For the last three years, volunteering with GERTIE, Fay Weller has had one vision. To help reduce Gabriola’s greenhouse emissions by encouraging people to use a public transit system and leave their cars at home. “We’d like to encourage people to start riding the bus, making it a viable option for themselves and their visitors. I’m passionate about reducing climate change, and for most British Columbians reducing vehicle travel is the best way to reduce emissions and greenhouse gasses.”

Weller came to Gabriola in 2005. When I arrive at her property on Gabriola, two sheep are in the driveway and they stand to the side giving me the once over. At the door to her farmhouse that looks right into the famous Malaspina Galleries, people are walking under the waves of sandstone. What it must be like to live here. You could walk right down to the water’s edge of this little bay. 

I have to take in the view for a few seconds before stepping over the threshold. It is at once pastoral and perhaps one of the best views on the island. I’m welcomed inside and in the corner is a bass, which seems much larger than Weller who is a petite woman. Weller says she plays from time to time. “I like to get close to it, it’s a stand-up bass.” Weller tells me she is expecting her first grandchild and it’s hard to believe because she looks like a girl herself as she tells me how she came to the island.

“I was working in Victoria and I was looking for a community that I liked, near the ocean and I’d always loved the Gulf Islands and I could afford a place here.” Weller moved from her position with the government into consulting work and then to volunteering while completing a PhD in philosophy that explored shifting to a more ecological and fair society and what things on the island could support this change. 

GERTIE, which Weller tells me stands for Gabriola Environmental Trans Island Express, was at the top of the list. One day she hopes the vehicles used will be electric, but for now she wants people to know about a mobile map of GERTIE online that makes it easier to find out where GERTIE is and what time to catch it. You can find the mobile map at the GERTIE website www.gertie.ca under the menu Routes and Schedules. Weller says John Beatty created the mobile map and it’s a lot like tracking Santa on Christmas Eve, watching the blue bus move around the island’s routes, making it easier to navigate the schedule.

Of particular concern to Weller are the youth on Gabriola and making it easier for them to be more independent, making their own way home from the ferry and activities. Weller also loves the fact that GERTIE is helping to build a sense of community here on the island. “I’m excited that people who may have been isolated can get their groceries, [get] to their medical appointments, and talk to other people. One person I talked to in their 80s said they drove around the island (on GERTIE) to see and talk to people on the bus.” Weller says she remembers going to help a new driver early one morning as a navigator. They didn’t know how to put on the radio, but one of the riders said, “Oh, you do this.”

Weller, who is the chair of the GERTIE team, has spent the last three years volunteering about 20 hours a week to chair meetings, write proposals and organize systems like the schedule and the ticket system. It costs $2.50 a ride for an adult or a book of 10 for $20. Children are $1.50 or $10 for a book of ten. 

Weller says GERTIE is always looking for more volunteers. “We are a volunteer-based organization, there’s lots of room for others who are passionate about the environment.” Weller remembers the fall of 2012 and organizing a petition for islanders interested in a public transit system. “Within one to two weeks we had about 800 signatures. We were standing outside of Village Foods and it was freezing.” 

A meeting was held at the Commons on April 17 to ask islanders what would make them use GERTIE more frequently, which is perhaps at the very heart of Weller’s years of work, education and dedication.

Behind the Scenes is an ongoing Sounder series, looking at individual volunteers on Gabriola who are making a difference on the island. 

To nominate someone for a Behind the Scenes profile, please email jane@soundernews.com