Barbara Thorburn helped raise funds for the mural that is painted on the IOOF Hall. This is now where the Philosophers’ Café is held.

Barbara Thorburn helped raise funds for the mural that is painted on the IOOF Hall. This is now where the Philosophers’ Café is held.

Thorburn involved in volunteer work

Involved in many projects, Barbara Thorburn played a key role in the birthing of the Philosophers’ Café.

Earlier this year Barbara Thorburn was nominated for Citizen/Volunteer of the Year.

Although not a finalist, she was described as a “tireless volunteer.”

Involved in many projects, she played a key role in the birthing of the Philosophers’ Café.

Thorburn, a mother of two grown children, a son and daughter, moved to Summerland with her husband in 2005. She was looking forward to retirement from her job as an academic advisor at Simon Fraser University.

“We picked the Okanagan because ever since I was a little girl this is where we came to vacation,” explained Thorburn. “We thought if we were retiring, why not go to a place that had positive memories.”

In the 2008 municipal election, Thorburn ran for council. She enjoyed getting out and meeting people in her new community.

When the election was over and she had not won, she put her name forward and was appointed to the community Cultural Development Committee.

“A lot of what they had done was murals. Pretty much every mural you see in this community was an initiative of CCDC,” she said. “I wanted to do something a little different.”

With a master’s degree in philosophical issues in education, she thought back to her experience at the university.

“SFU is very well known for their philosophers café’s,” she said.

“The idea behind it is that we are all philosophers. All people can think philosophically about health issues, political issues, how we live in our communities and about social issues. We are all capable of having that higher level of discussion.”

She pitched the idea to the CCDC and they were in favour.

“I went and spoke with the people at the Art Gallery and said we’d like to try this idea out, use your facility and have speakers come in and have a casual, comfortable conversation with members of our community.”

That was seven years ago now. The Philosophers’ Café has proven to be a huge success.

“It took off and we have a following. We have a core group of people who come every time and then there are always people that I’ve never seen before that find out about it,” explained Thorburn.

“People enjoy coming and listening to our speakers and participating. It’s wonderful. We get up to 45 people which I think is a really good turnout.”

Even though some of the topics have been controversial, people have always been respectful of each other’s opinions. Thorburn stressed the fact that they are not looking for any certain outcome during the discussions; there is no goal, but rather just an exchange of ideas.

“We’re not solving problems,” she said. “You go home feeling closer and feeling like you understand others or even yourself better.”

Collaborating with Thorburn are Margaret Holler and René Goldman.

Together they come up with speakers and topics for discussion.

The majority of the speakers are local and Thorburn said she believes it is a real testament to the kinds of interesting diverse people we have in this community.

The trio host six or seven cafés per year, with topics ranging from social, political, environmental and cultural issues.

Tea, coffee and cookies are served and the Philosophers’ Café is now held in the IOOF Hall.

It will be starting up again this fall and continue through to the spring.

In 2013 the CCDC was dissolved and replaced with the Community Cultural Advocacy Committee and Thorburn put her name forward to be on the new committee.

She was instrumental in getting a community led task force together to work on developing a cultural plan for Summerland and served as its vice president.

“I just recently stepped off of it,” she explained.

“There are 15 good people and I’m confident they are on the right track. I just needed a break.”

Even though she said she understands volunteer burnout, Thorburn feels there is a real benefit in volunteering.

“If you find something you are really passionate about and you work with people you enjoy being with, then it’s very rewarding, and it helps you feel connected to your community,” she said.

“I moved here and knew no one and I feel I’ve just met the nicest people through the volunteer work.


If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.



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