After the sale of Athlone Travel, a pillar of the Oak Bay business community is stepping into retirement. Elizabeth Smith has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to nurturing not only her business but also the wider community.
While developing and running the successful travel agency, Elizabeth has also been heavily involved with the Oak Bay Business Improvement Association (BIA), including an eight-year stint as President. Her work with the BIA improved the local community on many levels through fundraising efforts and community events.
Heather Leary, who has worked with Elizabeth in the BIA for years, uses the BIA fundraiser that purchased the jaws-of-life for the Oak Bay Fire Department, to highlight Elizabeth’s devotion to the betterment of her community.
“We contributed as the BIA on a small level, and then Liz through her business and her personal efforts raised a large piece of money for that,” says Heather Leary. “But I think the summer market is her biggest legacy project. She really pushed it forward. The markets bring vendors together to sell but it also brings a number of our non-profits together. It is used as an avenue to work with partners like Kiwanis that have raised money to put towards local programs right in the community. The legacy of the market is that building of community and building business and strengthening relationships.”
Peter Wheaton, a long-time employee at Athlone Travel, agrees with Heather. “The village gets better and better every year and Elizabeth played a big role in that,” says Wheaton.
Through events like the Summer Markets, Trick or Treat on the Avenue, and the Christmas Festival, Elizabeth has steered the BIA in the direction of engagement more than advertisement.
“We really like to build community. We don’t spend our resources on advertising, we make the community a better place. We like to have events in the Village and draw people in and I think that’s the best way,” says Elizabeth.
Her love and support of community can be felt in her business as well, made evident by the loyalty of her staff – many having been there for decades. Elizabeth started working at Athlone Travel in 1986, before purchasing the business with four other women, who became fondly known as The Ladies of Athlone. From the early days of working at Athlone Travel when her children were young, Elizabeth has created a working environment that supports flexibility and family.
“We have a very flexible environment. I think it is really important to support young moms and young families and we did everything we could in that direction,” says Elizabeth.
Darryl Morriss, who has worked at Athlone Travel for 21 years, speaks very highly of his former boss. “She is an excellent employer. She is very fair, very generous, and very kind,” says Morriss. “I don’t think of her as my boss, I consider her a friend.”
When Elizabeth started to consider selling the business and retiring, she and her business partners knew they had to wait for the right buyer – someone that would care about the business and staff as much as they did. So when Maritime Travel, the 39th best employer in Canada, approached them, they knew they had found the right one.
“I feel really good about it. I feel they [the staff] are in good hands,” says Elizabeth.
When asked what she will be doing with her time now that she is retired, family is her happy response, underlined by her imminent flight to the UK to visit her grandchildren.
Fortunately, for the community of Oak Bay, she will also be returning to help run the markets and continue as a board member of the BIA. There is no doubt, her inspiring influence will continue to be felt in the Village.