The Niagara-on-the-Lake ambassador program has turned loving this town into an art and is looking for more self-proclaimed NOTL know-it-alls to join the ranks.
The ambassador program was launched in 2020 by the Shaw Guild and the town as a way to inform people about pandemic restrictions.
It has morphed into a way for people enthusiastic about NOTL to tell visitors about the town and how to get the most out of their time here.
“It’s fun. It really is fun,” Vlad Haltigin said at an ambassador information session last week.
Volunteers work two-hour shifts on weekends and holidays, walking up and down Queen Street to chat with anyone who is looking for some advice.
This year, the program is also launching an ambassador kiosk that will operate outside the courthouse.
Haltigin said one of the best aspects of the job is meeting different visitors from all over the world.
But he said one of the main attractions of the program for him is spreading and gaining knowledge about the town.
“I love sharing stories about the things that interest me. This is a fabulous town,” he said.
“I’ve been here for two-and-a-half years but there’s still so much about this town I simply do not know. Learning things is great. That’s what motivates me,” he said.
“And, every moment, I’m discovering new things and meeting new people. That’s a personal motivator. And this is a stunning, stunning town. It’s one of the top three places to visit in Canada.”
Haltigin moved to Canada from Europe. As a European, he said there were two things he associated with Canada before moving.
“First of all, a Mountie on a horse in the Rockies,” he said.
“Secondly, Niagara Falls. We are so close to Niagara Falls. It’s a gem, and NOTL adds to Niagara Falls.”
He said the response from visitors has been good but the positive reaction from NOTL residents has been a welcome surprise.
“On several occasions we were approached by residents who said, ‘Wow, this is great,’ ” he said.
“That’s because we allow people to learn about more things that are in Niagara-on-the-Lake — in Queenston, in St. Davids, in Glendale, in Virgil and on Lakeshore Road.”
“It’s encompassing Niagara-on-the-Lake. They can discover this place and all we are doing is facilitating that.”
While explaining historical details of fascination to visitors can be a perk of the job, past Shaw Guild president and ambassador leader Laurie Harley said the main questions visitors ask are fairly consistent.
“Where are the washrooms? Where can I park? Where can I park my bicycle?” she said, eliciting laughs from the enthusiastic attendees.
Among the upstart ambassadors at the information session was none other than Lord Mayor Betty Disero herself.
“I am going to become an ambassador. I feel like I already am an ambassador for the town, in some ways,” she said.
Noting she generally has a fairly busy schedule, Disero affirmed she was “going to make the time” for the mandatory six-shift commitment all ambassadors are asked to make.
The mayor said she also saw it as an opportunity to get closer to the town’s residents and visitors.
‘“It gives me an opportunity to meet people and talk with them and find out, you know, what they’re thinking about Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Returning ambassador Michael Berlis said he’s “very proud of this community. I’ve been involved in the community in many ways and I just love to show it off.”
As a lover of NOTL, Berlis said he already does what the ambassadors are asking him to do on a daily basis.
“When I’m walking into town and I see people that are looking around for places or restaurants, I usually stop and ask them how they’re doing,” he said.
“So, it kind of feels like the right thing to do.”
The ambassadors will be more important than ever as the world fights its way out of the pandemic, said Berlis, who is also chair of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Fund.
The ambassador program, which kicks off on the May long weekend, is looking for more volunteers, with Harley saying she hopes for 50.
The group is holding another information session on April 6 and anyone interested in attending can email email@example.com.