The District of Sicamous might benefit from a slight addition to its official slogan: The Houseboat Capital of Canada and Home of Shirley Holcomb.
This year’s Sicamous Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards saw the introduction of a new award, created specifically with Holcomb in mind: Visitor Ambassador 2012. Holcomb says she was invited to the event by her friend Terri Sinton, who she volunteers with at the arena. While she expected a fine meal and good company, Holcomb says the award was a complete surprise.
“It blew my socks off,” says Holcomb. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life to kind of volunteer and help out, but I’ve never ever received anything. I shouldn’t say that because the hockey rink, for volunteering last winter, gave me a hockey jacket… But other than that, I’ve never received anything, so it was a total shock.”
The award, however, wasn’t for Holcomb’s volunteer work at the arena, or with the Meals To Wheels program, or at the seniors centre, or anywhere else you can find her lending a hand. It was for an initiative that she began this spring to promote the community, which has since earned the sprightly 75-year-old the nickname “Huggy Shirley.” Essentially, when Holcomb saw a new face in the community she would stop them, hand them her card (with her name, a happy face and the request that visitors enjoy themselves in the community), welcome them and give them a hug. Although some were slightly taken aback by this approach, Holcomb says she never received a negative reply.
“For a split second they’re kind of in shock, and then they hug you back,” says Holcomb. “So it’s amazing. I’ve met some wonderful people.”
During the awards presentation for Holcomb, it was mentioned the chamber had received feedback from all over by visitors upon whom “Huggy Shirley” had left a positive impression. And it is exactly that result Holcomb is after in her mission to assure all who visit Sicamous know they’re welcome.
“It’s been amazing, the response from the Albertans, because they said nobody had ever welcomed them before or even bothered them that much, and they were thrilled,” explains Holcomb. “It was making them feel they are important and not just a wallet coming into town.”
In fact, it is, in part, a particular attitude towards Sicamous’ Albertan guests that prompted Holcomb to take on her ambassadorial duties.
“This couple that said to me – when I was so excited when I had the cards first made – don’t give any of them out to those damned Albertans,” says Holcomb. “Well, I said you better hope those damned Albertans come. When they’re not coming, we’re losing businesses. And when we lose a business, that tax has got to be going somewhere else, which goes on your home taxes. And you know what she said to me? ‘I’d rather pay the taxes.’ So there’s what I’m fighting.”
Holcomb believes her fight was only made more necessary by this summer’s flooding events which, with the accompanying television news broadcasts, wound up keeping potential visitors away.
“I think it’s fabulous,” says Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton about the work Holcomb has been doing to promote the community. “Shirley is always a bubbling personality and she says it how it is, and it’s nice to have her in our community. The more people we have out there being warm and welcoming, it’s better for Sicamous. That’s what we’re based on, that Sicamous is a great place to come to and people feel welcomed.”
Holcomb admits to being a busybody. She says this stems, in part, from being raised on a farm in Alberta. She says her husband was killed when her two kids were babies, and that she had to work two jobs to make ends meet. Later in life, she found employment with a plastics company, and then a neon lighting company which allowed her to be creative with her hands – something she enjoys. For a while she looked after an acreage for her daughter, who later sold the property and had Holcomb move to Sicamous to look after a trailer park. As work became too much, and a back fusion was required, Holcomb says she applied to move into the Haven, was accepted, and started volunteering right away.
“I can’t stand not being busy. I can’t handle that,” she says.
Though she is thrilled to have received the Visitor Ambassador award, Holcomb says she doesn’t feel she deserved it.
“I’m just doing something I thought needed to be done – like, I’m not an owner of a business that they acknowledged or anything like that,” says Holcomb. “I feel like mine was pretty small. But I definitely was blown away…”