by Anne Miller –
How would you describe an amazing host? How about this: someone who welcomes you warmly with a smile; someone who puts you at ease in her home and makes you feel welcome; someone who shares her home with joy and pride; someone who wants to know about you and who listens to you, making you feel significant and interesting. That matters, doesn’t it? Sidney has the good fortune to have such a person in Hazel Phillips, who is among the 60 or 70 visitor counsellors who volunteer at its Visitor Information Centre. In addition to that role, Hazel also greets visitors arriving in Sidney from the Anacortes ferry.
The consummate hostess, Hazel intuitively knows that a visitor wants not only information about what to see and how to get there, but also to feel welcome. She does that brilliantly. Hazel is a shoo-in for her position. Having lived, gone to school and worked in Sidney over the past eight decades, she knows the town intimately. She is a treasured source of information about the history of its citizens and its buildings, as well as future plans for the town. She also truly enjoys the people she meets as a volunteer.
Hazel enjoys hearing their interesting stories, giving her an opportunity to travel vicariously and broaden her horizons through her conversations with them. She recalls asking a visiting couple to tell her their favourite country to visit. Without hesitation, they said: “Iran. The people there are so absolutely friendly and so amazing.” It reminded her how we tend to look at other cultures through our own biased lens and that this couple’s perspective opened her mind. She said: “We become aware that those people have red blood in their veins, just as we do,” noting that tourism can build such understanding and tolerance.
Hazel sees the economic value of tourism too. She knows how tourists can build the economy and reputation of a community. While greeting visitors from the Anacortes ferry, the most common question she gets is how to get to Victoria by bus. Shrewdly, she offers them a circuitous route through Sidney, instead of a more direct route. She explains they may need to exchange their currency and, along the way, might want to explore the shops or have a nibble. Going the extra mile, Hazel will look at licence plates from outside B.C., approach the visitor and say, “Welcome. What was your favourite time on your visit here?”
Expanding her contributions to the community, Hazel offers her time to the Compassionate Resource Warehouse, whose mission is “to gather and provide resources for international relief.” While speaking of her involvement there, she admits she has two compulsions – one to knitting (“I’m a yarnaholic”) and the other, to collecting stuff, calling herself a “garage sale junkie. My garage is a repository for a strange collection of stuff, from hand saws to stuffies to 13 sewing machines” over time, all to be sent to third world countries. It satisfies her to know that what she collects is going to be used by those in need and is saved from the landfill.
Sidney is fortunate to have such a caring and welcoming member of its community. Visitors are lucky too, ending their visit to the Visitor Information Centre with the warm words from Hazel: “Thank you for coming. Come again. Safe journey home.”