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Heart of Our City: Behind the lens of Rupert’s volunteer extraordinaire

Phil Cornwall is celebrating 35 years at Ridley Terminals and being a volunteer extraordinaire

There are many different elements that when put together make up a portraiture of a person, each one coming together to tell a story about that individual.

With Phil Cornwall, one could tell he was not used to being in the spotlight from his nervous laughter as he sat down in front of the camera for his Heart of Our City interview. He is usually the one working behind the scenes, be it as a photographer, worker, or volunteer extraordinaire.

His choice of sporty shirt and his in-shape physic give away his love for sports and outdoor activity. His warm smile and gift of gab confirm what his friends and family say about Phil, that his heart is full of love for his community.

The first person that inspired Phil to become a volunteer extraordinaire, was his mom who had taught him the value of doing good for the community.

“She was, she’s always been, my inspiration, my whole life,” he said.

Phil’s mom was actively involved in her community growing up. She was in the ATC during the second world war and signed up to work in a fighter base in England.

“She was 16 or 17 years old, they were just children.” he said. “Once the war was over, she launched her own career and spent her career fighting for her dignity as a woman. Because in the 1940s and 50s it was very unusual for a woman or a mom to see success in the corporate world, but she did. So she fought for everything way before the time. And so growing up we had it instilled in us to be responsible.”

Phil grew up in Toronto before heading to Haida Gwaii where he spent three years in Tasu working at a copper mine. The time spent in the wilderness developed his love for landscape photography. He then gravitated his way toward Prince Rupert where he has been “a proud Rupertite for more than 35 years now” as his wife Chantal Cornwall loves to describe him.

READ MORE: Chantal Cornwall: Joie de vivre: Finding those “awe” moments with family, friends and food

Phil Cornwall is celebrating 35 years at Ridley Terminals and being a volunteer extraordinaire. His passion for photography and portraiture can be seen on display in Cowpuccino's. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Those years were spent at Ridley Terminals Inc. working in their IT department where he was recently awarded a 35-year service award from his employers.

Phil and Chantal first met outside of his working life when they were both volunteering at Northwest Community College with the English as Second Language (ESL) program. Chantal was assisting a family that had moved from Vietnam and Phil was assisting a young person who was wheelchair-bound, with homework and other life skills.

From there, the rest was history and the couple recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with their two sons Ben, 24, and Eric, 22.

Between raising two kids and working full-time Phil filled up his spare time with volunteering.

Having grown up loving soccer, playing from the age of seven, co-coaching his kids with Chantal for the Prince Rupert Youth Soccer Association was a must. One of Phil’s favourite volunteer gigs was as cub leader for the Prince Rupert Scouts Canada chapter for eight years where he was deemed “akela” (leader) for the cub pack.

“You know, growing up, I always made my kids well aware of what I’ve done with my past and a huge part of my past was cubs and scouts adventures.” Phil said.

Phil Cornwall believes volunteering is a "duty" to help raise a strong next generation of kids. Which is why he coached his sons, Eric and Ben, through their soccer career, volunteered in the local hockey scene, and lead the scouts, among many more commitments.

READ MORE: Heart of Our City: Cay Hülsen is integrating health care into the community

Phil spent his meetings with his cubs channeling the lessons of his former scout mentor, Fred, who motivated him to get out in nature.

“I mean, we live in a part of the world here that is just so spectacular and amazing. So, the outdoor opportunities are just incredible. So, I focus on skills and survival. And basically it just got to the point where these kids are going to school, they’re telling their friends about cool stuff they’re doing on the weekend, camping trips, going fishing and stuff like that, and I got a lot of other kids really interested showing up. Boys and girls. And yeah, that makes me really happy.”

Also on his volunteer resumé is working with the Okala Foundation – a non profit Canadian organization to assist children in Cameroon, Africa — from 2011 to 2016 where they partnered with the Crest Hotel to raise $25,000 one year and nearly $30,000 the next. During that time he also assisted Chantal in maintaining her “Let’s Eat” column, on a website he designed just for her work.

Phil also spent his time filming the Rupert Rampage games with locals Mike Sidhu and Kevin Movold in the hockey arena.

The most recent volunteer project Phil is working on is for motorcycle group Women in the Wind, Prince Rupert chapter.

Phil Cornwall is keeping continuing his love for photography and volunteering even after he plans to retire. His latest volunteer project is taking portraiture of the Women in the Wind motorcyclists in Prince Rupert.(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

READ MORE: VIDEO: Women in the Wind: Prince Rupert’s biker chicks are ripping it to Alberta

Phil is retiring from RTI in the coming months. Two months ago he also experience a stroke which has limited his physical activity. During his free time he plans to continue his passion for photography and develop his photography business started seven years ago.

Phil has been snapping away portraits of Prince Rupert residents which are on display at Cowpuccino’s.

From behind the lens, Phil has made his own portraiture of Prince Rupert.

“I never thought I would live in a place where there’s so many generous people. That’s what really stands out in my mind. They are so welcoming to everyone and every time I got involved in a fundraising activity it was unbelievable. I was going back to the same people and businesses three or four times a year asking for donations and help. They were never ever looked frustrated with it or turned us down.”

“Prince Rupert is unbelievable,” he concluded.

READ MORE: MVP of the Week: Soccer saves: Vern Barker sees the sport as a way to better lives

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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Phil Cornwall is celebrating 35 years at Ridley Terminals and being a volunteer extraordinaire. His passion for photography and portraiture can be seen on display in Cowpuccino’s. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)