Prioritizing a sense of community

My approach to human resource development has been to look at the world in a more global, generic, and holistic way.” – Gerry Zipursky, Founding Executive Director, Gibsons Public Market

Market lovers across the region can feel thankful that Gerry Zipursky never boarded that plane to Africa 55 years ago.Gerry Zipursky

Originally intent on teaching with CUSO in Kenya, a telegram received only weeks before his expected departure, announced the outbreak of civil war. With his workstation then closed, Gerry and his wife, Nancy, changed course and moved to Vancouver (from Winnipeg). A few decades later, in 2008, the couple hopped over to Gibsons, where Gerry carried with him the philosophy that “to live in a community you need to give back and be a part of it.” It was this belief that eventually led to the creation of the Gibsons Public Market.

More than a building
“The Gibsons Public Market is more than just a venue or building; it was created to help build a community where people would be engaged, sell their products and offer employment; a place to come together and help themselves,” says Gerry, who explains how the journey began in partnership with friends and Community Futures Sunshine Coast.

Over the course of his personal and professional life, Gerry has had ample opportunities to explore various paths. Such as working on a kibbutz in Israel and teaching at City University; to more recent work producing documentary films and creating a broad-based, multi-disciplinary treatment for vulnerable people on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This has all been alongside the community vision to create one of the Sunshine Coast’s most renowned community gathering spaces.

“We wanted a place that was about more than selling goods and that would also attract locals year-round. That’s how we came up with the idea to also have a marine education centre and mini aquarium. We felt this would draw in young people and families to support the vendors and create a meeting place on the Sunshine Coast that would connect and build community.”

Developing the market concept and vision
The market team visited over 20 different public markets across North America for research, including Vancouver’s Granville Market. However, when it came to making choices on how to develop the Gibsons Public Market concept and vision, Gerry was adamant about ensuring community involvement.

During the first year of concept development, over 150 “parlour meetings” were held, with more than 2500 community members, to share the concept and vision and to receive valuable input. From there, the Town of Gibsons got on board. Eventually, ownership of the building was transferred to the newly formed, non-profit Gibsons Community Building Society (GCBS).

Now came the hard work … seeking funding to turn the market vision in to a reality.

Believing in the benefits
“A project of this magnitude requires substantial funding, and when you are a new society taking on a large-scale project, well let’s just say it is challenging to find funders that are willing to take the risk. You need a funder that believes in the benefits of the project, and who will be a champion for your project. This is exactly what Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) was for us. ICET not only provided significant capital ($400,000) but they were one of the first funders, which allowed us to leverage additional funding because of their financial backing and early belief in the project” explains Gerry on the important role ICET played.

“We had more than 300 volunteers within that first-year help with the painting, landscaping, gutting…,” says Gerry. “It was truly a community project and most have credited this “hands-on” involvement as what led to their current friendships.”

And it’s these friendships and connections that matter deeply to Gerry. He expresses concern over the risks to over-emphasizing economic impact. He believes this unilateral approach can work to the detriment of the initial vision or concept of a market as a social gathering place.

It takes a community…
“As Nick (Sonntag) used to say: ‘it takes a community to build a public market,” says Gerry of his late friend, who was instrumental in the development of the market. But “I like to say: ‘it takes a community to sustain a public market’.”

Sustaining a public space is not always easy, but for someone like Gerry – whose admitted strength is “relationship building” – the task is likely a lot easier.

“I’ve been very blessed in developing good relationships with a wide spectrum of people. I have a tremendous appetite to learn from others and take an entrepreneurial approach in believing you can make things happen.”

Fortunately for us, it all happened right here in our own backyard.


Gerry is currently working with Odd Squad Productions, an organization dedicated to drug and gang education and prevention, and with the Building Community Society of Greater Vancouver.


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