The Port Alberni Ambassadors Program, which began more than 15 years ago, has become one of the most important coordinated plans to promote our Valley, its resources and its activities to thousands of visitors who annually come to the west coast.
The program was created and initiated by past Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce president Dewayne Parfitt, manager Mike Carter and volunteer-coordinator Gerry Fagan.
Adrienne Beauregard was also one of the original members of the group. “Gerry and I did the scheduling from the beginning,” she said.
The idea was developed in order to enlist an army of volunteers who would spend time in Cathedral Grove and invite tourists to stop in Port Alberni and encourage them to stay and visit various places and venues in the community.
That was the beginning of the “Ambassadors,” the men and women in yellow jackets that are now so popular in Port Alberni. This idea became a successful venture and called the attention of other communities that also decided to adopt such a promotional module.
“That’s because it works!” says Bill Collette, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Currently, there are more than a dozen people giving their time to the program during the busy summer months, which also includes volunteers who help only periodically. In some cases, they don’t have the availability that is best for success.
The main areas of action by the Ambassadors include:
Cathedral Grove: This area is normally covered in two shifts by two people seven days a week, from early June to mid- September. Shifts are about three hours with one person on either side of the highway.
“New this year is full access to a Chamber-provided Visitor Services van that is decaled up to help promote the AV,” added Collette.
Harbour Quay: Some “Ambassadors” are sent to the Harbour Quay to meet visitors. They do not have specific working scheduled patterns for specific shifts. The same is done in the Victoria Quay area.
Campgrounds: The Chamber of Commerce van (with visible decals) is sent to the local campgrounds to offer assistance to visitors who have not been connected with the Visitor Centre previously.
Arrowsmith View Market: The volunteers are also asked to cover visits to the city’s evening street market (along Third Avenue, between Argyle and Angus), which this year takes place on Wednesdays between 6-9 p.m.
Special Events: The Ambassadors are also part of major Valley special events. One of them which makes the highlights this season is the visit of three cruise ships, bringing thousands of visitors to the Valley. The cruise ship festivals have enjoyed the assistance of at least 25 volunteer Ambassadors in each of the recent cruise ship arrivals.
The Ambassadors indeed continue providing a valuable service for passing on information about our community, its attractions and activities. By doing so, a good number of tourists decide to spend time in the area and learn about the natural and human resources the Valley has to offer. It is also worth pointing out that this group of volunteers are made up of mostly seniors—an estimated 90 percent.
In their role to inform the visitors, they pass on valuable information about the historic McLean Mill and the wonderful rides on the old steam train, the trip down the Alberni Inlet on the Frances Barkley, visits to the Maritime Discovery Centre and our lakes and rivers, which attract the tourists who can spend enjoyable time fishing, swimming and admiring the Sproat Lake petroglyphs along with the beautiful natural surroundings so typical of this area.
Through the Ambassadors’ informative knowledge, the visitors can also learn more about our First Nations culture, the popular water bombers and a brief outline of the history of the Valley and its first settlers. They also provide information on the various sports and cultural events that take place in the community, such as the renowned Salmon Festival, the Fall Fair, the Toy Run, the Solstice Arts Festival and more.
“Several tourists have said to me they had been going to Tofino for years and didn’t know that there was a town, until the yellow jacket in the grove told them,” says volunteer Gerry Fagan.
The Chamber of Commerce welcomes new volunteers to assist in promoting our Valley by becoming an Ambassador. Interested people can contact the Chamber at 250-724-6535.
Collette likes to suggest that People heading towards the West Coast are in fact, “Passing through Paradise on their way to Paradise.”