First day for the new Visitor Centre

Trent Ernst, Editor


It’s shortly after 9:00 am and things aren’t quite ready for prime time at the new Visitor’s Centre.

In the corner a pile of boxes that will be gondola style shelfing, hopefully later this afternoon. Beside the front counter are boxes of extra brochures not yet stored. They’re still waiting for couches for tourists to sit on. For the TV that shows off photos and videos of the Geopark. Oh. And Internet.

But much has been accomplished since the Visitor Information Staff started moving things over less than 24 hours ago. Birgit Sharman and Chamber Manager Carmen Drapeau move about the space, slowly getting things into place. Sharman puts another handful of brochures out on the brand new brochure racks, then banishes the box down into the basement, where these things will be stored. This is a step up from before, when extra brochures had to be stored over at the Public Works building. Now, when they run out, they can just run downstairs, instead of calling to have a box of information driven over to the Visitor Centre.

John Schneider arrives. Drapeau sketches out an idea she has for the seating area. There are some extra boxes of stonework left over from facing the counter, and she’s wondering if he can build a coffee table for the sitting area. They kick around some ideas and he leaves. Drapeau returns to her office and cleans off her computer before it disappears under the desk.

As he leaves, the first visitors of the day arrive. “Welcome,” says Sharman. “You are the first visitors here at our new Visitor Information Centre. How can I help you?”

The couple says they’re passing through, and want to see what there is to see. They’re from Oregon and just here for the day.

Sharman asks if they are interested in hiking, in checking out the museum, in visiting a waterfall or a dinosaur trackway? They don’t have a preference, so Sharman begins to highlight the town’s many features, from the museum to Kinuseo Falls. She gives them a copy of the town’s brochure, and then they begin to wander about the building itself and studying how the logs were put together.

When the couple leaves, Sharman goes back to organizing the brochures on the new racks. “You can’t put too many on or else they fall off,” she says. The new racks are similar to magazine racks at the library, with space for a handful of brochures on the angled display rack, and room for a stack underneath.

Drapeau says that, while those were the first visitors to the new building, there’s already been a bunch of locals come in to check the new place out.

Today is the soft launch for the new building. She says there’s been a lot of people asking when the grand opening will be, but a date hasn’t been set yet. “They want to do it up like the Geopark grand opening,” she says, “and invite the dignitaries and companies that contributed to the construction.”

In the entrance, the alarm beeps gently but insistently, telling all who will listen that it isn’t set up yet. When the plumber comes in, Drapeau asks him if he knows how to work the thermostat, because it’s starting to get a little warm. He doesn’t, he says, and the manual is at the Public Works building, he thinks, being collected with all the other manuals. He says he’s going to be hooking up the water softener, and so the water service will be going out for a couple hours.

Shortly after he leaves, another visitor arrives. Of course, he’s looking for the washroom. Sharman directs him next door. Sharman says that’s another thing that the building needs: signs for the washrooms. Right now, there is a men’s room and a ladies room, but it’s a flip of the coin as to which is which. In fact, the fancy exit sign over the rear exit, featuring a male figure on a green background, appears to be the sign for the men’s room, even though behind door number two is the women’s washroom.

More visitors arrive, looking for a map. As Sharman shows them a copy of the local map, CAO Barry Elliott arrives to see what progress has been made and Drapeau takes him for the grand tour, pointing out potential improvements. They have been told they can’t use nails or tacks to hang things from the walls, so they will need some sort of board that they can post visitor information on. And Drapeau wants to be able to display local artwork in the VIC, so some sort of way to hang paintings and photographs without damaging the walls would be nice, too.

Over at the front counter, another group has arrived. They’re planning on hiking up to Monkman Lake, and Birgit offers advice, shows them the map and gives them the weather forecast: a chance of showers on Friday. Jason from Sci-Tech North shows up with a new router to install. He disappears downstairs, Elliott and the Visitors leave, and a moment of calm descends. Sharman grabs a box of brochures that needs to go to the clinic and heads out the door, and Drapeau takes a moment to look around at the new space.

“I love the light from the windows,” she says. “It’s gorgeous. That’s one of my favourite things about this new space. And the space. My first thought was ‘wow we have a lot of room.’”

This is important, she says, for when more than one group comes in for information. “Sometimes, you get four groups at once and in the little space we had before, it could get very crowded. Now there’s space for everything. And my office is big enough to have a meeting. I used to joke when people came for a meeting that, if they were claustrophobic, I could leave the door open, as it was very squishy otherwise.”

She says she’s not complaining about the old space; they really appreciated it, and used it to its full potential, but she says it’s nice to have a bit more room.

As more things are moved into the new space, she says, that’s one of the things she wants to focus on. “I don’t want to clutter it up. This space is about people welcoming people. The idea is to have minimum decor and keep the space functional. We could make it really lodge-y in here, but I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to keep the focus on logs. On the building. And when we get all the stuff in here, on the merchandise.”

She walks to the front window, looking out at the downtown core. “The view from here is amazing,” she says. “You can just point to places. That’s really important and the windows allow you to do that. If someone wants to know where the Community Centre is, well, it’s right there.” She points. “And I can see the Dragon Palace and the Dollar Store Building and Town Hall…you can see the Wilderness Lodge through those trees.”

And that’s what it’s all about, she says. Being able to help visitors, and to present the town in the best possible light. “We want to make people feel welcome,” she says. “To be able to give them a good experience so they want to come back.”