They are like young guides at the gateway to the Cypress Hills area. They are salespersons, who can promote the interests of downtown businesses.
They are, in effect, Maple Creek ambassadors, whose job is to put a smile on faces and attend to visitors’ needs. Informing people about the region, perhaps, or providing maps, guides and brochures, as well as beverages.
Meet the five attendants at the newly re-opened Trans-Canada Visitor Reception Centre: Leila Noval and Emma Walkow, from Maple Creek; Travis Illerbrun, from Shaunavon, who is staying in a Cypress Hills cabin; and Brianna MacPherson and Teanna Oulette, from Medicine Hat.
As can be expected, they are at the beginning of their working lives, either still at school, college or university, or planning to complete their education.
Working at the centre provides invaluable experience that will buff up a resume.
Emma is a Grade 11 student at Maple Creek Composite School and hopes to study medicine after graduating, while Leila, a recent high school graduate, is planning to go to Medicine Hat in the fall to study math.
Travis hasn’t settled on a career path, although he has already accumulated a wealth of educational and vocational experience.
He studied environmental science at Medicine Hat, before transferring to Lethbridge College, where he obtained a diploma in environmental science – renewable resource management. Two Government of Saskatchewan positions are on his resume - an interpreter at the T-rex Discovery Centre in Eastend, providing guided tours and talking about paleontology and earth sciences; and an interpreter at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.
In addition, Travis was a volunteer research assistant with Calgary Zoo and is a rescue volunteer with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan.
He is thinking about going back to college, perhaps taking a master’s degree.
Meanwhile, Teanna is taking a Bachelor’s degree course in applied arts/photography at Medicine Hat College, and Brianna is studying in the faculty of education at the University of Lethbridge.
The five are managed by Savannah Mass, the Town’s communications and tourism manager, who was a visitor centre attendant herself in 2019. It was she who interviewed them for the positions.
When the News-Times visited the centre on Saturday, Emma, Leila and Travis were present.
They said it had taken a hectic three days to get the facility ready in time, cleaning and doing an inventory. It was an extra-big task because the building had been shut during 2020 because of COVID-19.
How did the first day go?
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the weather seemed to have proved a deterrent to some visitors.
Travis pointed to the recent snowfall, particularly in the Cypress Hills, a major tourism draw.
“If it was warmer, it would probably be busier,” he said.
Saturday’s numbers, however, gave grounds for cautious optimism. By 3.30pm on Saturday, 10 groups had attended from as far away as Ottawa and British Columbia. One group was travelling from Vancouver to Toronto.
A few sales were made, with items such as baked goods proving popular. Local businesses give a small sampling of their wares through pop-up stores, hoping visitors will be enticed to explore the downtown core.
While the News-Times was there, two people entered to use the one-of-a-kind washrooms, which are artfully decorated with outdoor scenes – people hiking and rock climbing, wildlife and forest scenes. It is a traditional image of Canada and captures the spirit of the Cypress Hills.
As they waited for visitors, the staff kept themselves busy cleaning, reflecting these COVID-conscious times.
Travis is happy in his role as a salesperson. It is clear that his background stands him in good stead; he has a vast knowledge of Saskatchewan’s rich environment that he is keen to share with visitors.
“I think we are a good team here,” he said. “We are different personalities, and have different strengths.”
The centre is open from 9am to 5pm every day. Hopefully, these hours will increase to 9am to 7pm as pandemic restrictions ease. Closing day will be September 30.