Niagara-on-the-Lake ambassadors took to the streets for the first time this summer Friday, a continuation of a program coordinator Cheryl Morris says was very well-received by visitors in 2020.
A group of five ambassadors gathered at the Market Room in the Court House just before noon to prepare to greet visitors to the Old Town, slipping their name tags onto lanyards and gathering up their maps and information sheets before departing.
Barbara Webber and Vlad Haltigin took the first noon-to-2 p.m. shift, walking up and down Queen Street wearing their bright blue T-shirts, which this year are emblazoned with the town logo and the word AMBASSADOR, in all caps.
“We found last year that people didn’t really know who we were,” Morris says. “So we added identification in the front. Once people found out what we were doing last year they were really receptive, and they found it was a great idea.”
The program is staffed largely by volunteer members of the Shaw Guild. With no backstage tours or indoor performances since 2019, they have been unable to fulfill their usual roles there.
The Ambassadors program began last summer as a joint effort between the town and the Shaw Guild. Participants were supplied with the blue shirts by the town, and tasked with reminding visitors about COVID measures and encouraging compliance with masking and social distancing.
Those goals continue to be front and centre this summer.
“We’re not enforcers,” Morris tells The Local. “If we see people that are too close together we’ll give them a gentle reminder. That did help last year. We noticed a change over the summer, with more people wearing masks.”
Webber and Haltigin were excited to get back onto the street. Haltigin especially was looking forward to reacquainting himself with shoppers and tourists, and also to getting a feel for the new tenants who have moved onto the Queen Street strip.
“You have to be a person who loves meeting people,” Haltigan said.
Webber, who has volunteered at McFarland House as well, said, “you meet so many new people. Being fairly new to town, it’s nice to have that opportunity.”
The pair stopped to talk to Elisabeth and Diane Warankie of Welland. They visit once a month to enjoy the scones and coffee at Nina’s Gelateria. This was their first time speaking to the ambassadors.
“It’s a great program,” said Elisabeth. “Every little town should have them. It just shows people from out of town how friendly we are as Canadians and as Niagarans.”
Later they were met briefly by Constable Mike Boichuk of the Niagara Regional Police, who was also walking Queen Street Friday afternoon. The morning drizzle meant that crowds were a bit slow to develop. But all three discussed how nice it was to see visitors wandering from store to store and enjoying lunch on the patios.
Margot Devlin was ready to go for the 2 p.m. shift.
“I love this town,” she told The Local. “I did it (volunteered for the Ambassadors program) last season, and it was great meeting people. They were friendly. We ran into a lot of people who were here on anniversaries, and we had a lot of visitors from Quebec.”
Devlin added that she enjoys her purposeful walks.
“I’m an exercise fanatic,” she explained. “I am training for the London Marathon in October, so this adds to my training.”
Webber and Haltigin also mentioned the exercise as a fringe benefit of contributing to the community.
Morris says there are about 20 volunteers currently involved in the program. They walk in pairs, completing two hour shifts each Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 12 and 4 p.m. The ambassadors will be seen at least until the fall, and Morris hints at plans for a related program that may run after that.
“Some people (volunteers) have been a little reluctant to start again,” Morris explains. “Since things have opened up they probably want to do some things with family. So we are looking for more volunteers. We’re reaching out to other organizations in town.”
Morris invites those interested in becoming an ambassador to send
an email to info@