There’s no actual wagon attached to Welcome Wagon visits in Chemainus and the surrounding area. But there’s a bike.
Diana Hardacker is into her 20th year as the Welcome Wagon representative in the region, arriving at homes to provide new residents with a basket of goods and information and, indeed, a warm welcome to the community. And she conducts most of the visits on her bike.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time I head out, I’m on my bike,” Hardacker indicated.
“I just love Chemainus. I hear that so frequently when I welcome newcomers. It’s a very warm community.”
She’s become the unofficial goodwill ambassador through her role and almost as well-known as the Mayor of North Cowichan. You’ll frequently see her riding around with the basket on the handlebar.
“It’s very rare for me to go out in Chemainus and not see someone I know,” Hardacker pointed out. “In many cases, it’s someone I’ve welcomed.”
Born in Vancouver, Hardacker was only two when her family moved to Prince George. After meeting her husband, Hardacker said they began “our tour of B.C.”, living in several communities before coming to Chemainus 19 years ago. She started as the Welcome Wagon rep here in August of 1998 and been doing it ever since.
“I love meeting people,” Hardacker conceded. “I love helping people and I’ve got the right personality for it.
“The hardest part of it is finding newcomers. People assume because I’m the Welcome Wagon lady, I must know who’s new.
“So it’s challenging finding the newcomers. When I do, I give them a visit.”
Hardacker counts on referrals and people can also request a visit, she said.
She puts together a basket of goods, an official letter from the actual Mayor Jon Lefebure and council, brochures and pamphlets and invitations from sponsors to receive a welcoming gift.
Some places have gift packages and others offer discounts. There’s all sorts of information included that new residents find useful to familiarize themselves with the town.
“It’s all the stuff over the years newcomers have asked me about,” said Hardacker.
She receives a nominal remuneration for her services. Each sponsor pays a fee per visit.
“I do about 120 visits a year so about 10 a month which floors me,” noted Hardacker.
There have been many areas of development in recent years, such as Creegan Drive, the bottom portion of Cook Street, Chemainus Gardens and many others that account for the influx of new residents. More, such as Chapman Road, are on the horizon that will surely keep Hardacker busy for years to come.
The job itself “hasn’t changed a whole lot,” she said. “One thing that is really prominent is the lack of new, younger people. The majority I visit are 50 and up. Some are retired and some are still working.”
Hardacker never knows how long each visit will be, depending on the individuals. Some are as short as 15 minutes and others go on for quite some time.
“It has been really wonderful,” she remarked. “I have met so many wonderful and interesting people.
“They welcome me into their homes and they’ll often share stories with me which is nice.”