Alumni and supporters of Katimavik rallied across Canada this weekend in an effort to save the popular youth volunteer program cut in the last federal budget.

Demonstrations held in Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg drew former Katimavik participants and political supporters of the 35-year old program.

Since 1977, Katimavik has sent Canadian youth aged 17 to 21 to live and volunteer in communities across the country.

The program was cancelled in the Conservative government's March 2012 budget.

Its demise is a shame, said Mélanie Parent-Poisson, a 2011 Katimavik volunteer who took part in the Montreal rally on Saturday.

The federal government got good value for its money, which "goes back to a community that really, really needs the help," she said.

The program fosters civic engagement at a critical age, said Andrew Murchison, a program alumnus at the Ottawa rally.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life took a 180 [turn] with the program," he said.

The program, created by Jacques Hébert in 1977, costs about $14 million a year.

Hébert went on a 21-day hunger strike in 1986 after Brian Mulroney's Conservative government cut it.

The Chrétien government reinstated a scaled-down version of Katimavik in 1995.

More than 30,000 Canadians have taken part in the program.

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