After years of saying hello to Victoria’s newcomers and cruise passengers, the Victoria AM Association is saying its last goodbye.
The iconic costumed greeters, organized by the volunteer society, have welcomed their last cruise ships. A year ago, the society decided to dissolve after the 2018 season.
“We made the decision, a really tough decision,” former Victoria AM Association president and current treasurer, Rod Burkhart, said. “As of the end of this month, it won’t exist any longer… It’s tough to see something you’ve worked at for 35 years kind of come to an end.”
The non-profit society began in 1983, originally made up of downtown Victoria business people who met for morning network meetings over breakfast (hence the Victoria AM Association’s name). Every week, they would meet at a different location and often featured guest speakers. At the time, it was one of the first of the now-common networking groups in the city.
Twenty-five years ago, before Destination Victoria existed, the society also promoted Victoria tourism to visitors. They raised funds and hired carvers for the large wooden signs welcoming everyone into the city via the Trans Canada or coming in from the ferries. (Those will still stand.) One of their members who owned a flower shop began the annual Victoria Flower Count to highlight the City of Gardens. Besides welcoming cruise ship passengers to Victoria, the Victoria AM Association also held barbecues for the crews of the vessels.
“They’re the ones that don’t get focused on. It’s the passengers who paid for the trip, but these guys who work the cruise ships, they’re visiting and enjoying Victoria as well. It’s nice to have all of them here,” Burkhart said.
And, of course, there were the cheerful greeters welcoming the cruise ships approaching the city, decked out in full Victorian and Edwardian garb, rain or shine. Their extensive wardrobe has now been donated.
Their more than 20 greeters were still active this past cruise season, but at a reduced rate, meeting a few of the early visitors and then when the largest ship came.
“They were not particularly happy about it coming to an end,” Burkhart said of the greeters. They need an organizing body because of the liability and security issues of operating at an international port.
“We had a number of years of success but in the last few years, we quit having breakfasts. One of our previous presidents decided she wanted to try lunches and move away from the breakfast thing, citing the lack of interest in early breakfast meetings. I think times have kind of changed, and even the networking,” he said, adding the amount of networking groups in the city made it difficult to recruit new board members.
Although some of the Victoria AM Association programs are fading into history, the Camosun College bursaries for their tourism course are still available.
One last breakfast will be hosted at no cost on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Union Club. On Nov. 23, their final dinner buffet will be at the Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel. Anyone interested in attending can RSVP before Nov. 10 with Debbie Burkhart at 250-590-8424 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We look forward to commemorating the end of an era,” Burkhart said.