Wagons North
Welcome Wagon hostess making newcomers feel at home

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Jan 21/98) - New to town? Looking for someone to talk with? Someone to help you find a job or just a place to hang out?

The welcome wagon is a good place to begin.

That means making a phone call to Judy Callas, Yellowknife's Welcome Wagon hostess.

"My whole objective is to make people feel welcome and get them hooked into the community," Callas said Sunday.

A Yellowknife resident for 12 years, Callas started up Welcome Wagon two years ago and has seen to more than 800 newcomers and has visited 1,200 new moms giving birth at the hospital.

Most of the people she sees are referred by personal friends or neighbors.

Once the Welcome Wagon pulls up, each newcomer is handed a package of coupons and gift certificates redeemable at participating local Northern businesses.

Callas said people who visit are surprised and delighted by the generosity of local businesses and the city of Yellowknife.

"I believe in Yellowknife as being a really great community, and a great community, especially to be with young kids. And after having been home for 10 years with my kids, I thought it would be a really good way to spread the word."

When the business first got up and running, Callas said the number of visitors were consistent, but lately she said there are definitely fewer people coming to town.

On the other hand, she said, the number of babies being born at the hospital is constantly growing.

Callas receives help from two other women in town, April Statz and Linda Grimmer.

"I like Yellowknife a lot and I always thought it was unfortunate when I would run into somebody and they were leaving Yellowknife and they didn't like it here. I just felt like they had not seen the right side of Yellowknife."

Welcome Wagon has been in Canada since 1930. It was founded in Memphis, Tenn., and takes its name from the Conestoga wagons of frontier days, when settlers would bring supplies to greet passing wagon trains and encourage them to settle in their community.

Callas operates the wagon by maintaining close ties with local businesses and receiving commissions from redeemed coupons.