For decades, newcomers to Red Deer and other central Alberta communities were visited by a friendly stranger bearing gifts.
The Welcome Wagon lady would bring them greetings, as well as small gifts and coupons from local businesses, and information about services.
But those home visits — considered by some to be a throwback to gentler times — are now truly a thing of the past.
This week, Welcome Wagon Canada announced it’s closing and filing for bankruptcy — a victim of changing practices, as well as COVID-19 business shutdowns and self-isolation.
“This decision has been very heartbreaking and difficult to make,” wrote the company’s president and CEO, Pat Neuman, to her business clients.
But “rapidly declining visits across Canada, and now the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown,” have made Welcome Wagon insolvent…
“Without visits (personal contact) and your businesses open … we cannot survive,” added Neuman.
The company forecast four to five months without revenue, “which has led us to this decision.”
Lori Vodon, a Welcome Wagon representative in Red Deer for the past 15 years, said she’ll miss greeting newcomers and new mothers, as well as interacting with her long-term business clients.
Having had a Welcome Wagon visit herself, after giving birth to her now 18-year-old son, Vodon feels many others will miss this human contact — as well as the free diaper bag and coupons — in a world that’s gone online.
Since she believes it was a great way for many businesses to expand their client base, Vodon is looking at ways to possibly continue offering a similar service on a local level.
Welcome Wagon became a fully Canadian company in 1979. It was inspired by frontier pioneers who greeted newcomers in their Conestoga Wagons.
Red Deer resident Lyn Radford received a Welcome Wagon visit when she moved to the city in 1986.
She recalled being glad to get this service: “I was a young mom with four kids and I didn’t know where to go for playschool, gymnastics or anything…”
But Radford feels it’s a different world now, with Google and the internet — and even people being more suspicious of letting strangers into their homes.