Frances Welwood arrived in Nelson in 1969 and only a few days after arriving was visited at her new home by Edna Whiteley of Welcome Wagon.
“We didn’t know anybody,” Welwood said. “I was eight months pregnant. We didn’t have doctors or know anyone. And she just sort of adopted me.”
In addition to providing a wealth of information about the community, Whiteley learned what Welwood was interested in and personally connected her with the right people.
“It was definitely a personal touch. She was a bouncy little person, she just exuded life and happiness.”
Not long after, Welwood joined Welcome Wagon and worked with Whiteley, knocking on the doors of new residents for 28 years.
Born in Nelson in 1921, Whiteley turned 100 on April 3.
She is legendary and well-loved for her upbeat, positive involvement in the life of this city.
On her birthday her family and friends held a drive-by past the front door of Mountain Lakes where she lives.
“There were 67 vehicles that passed by,” her nephew Bob Steed told the Nelson Star, “all offering happiness and a happy birthday. She was out in a chair there and she just loved it. She was just beaming and happy.”
Among Whiteley’s many engagements in the life of Nelson, she is best known as the face of Welcome Wagon, welcoming new residents for 42 years. Newcomers like Welwood remember Whiteley’s visit decades later.
On the Facebook post that publicized the birthday drive-by, which received 119 comments and 87 shares, there are dozens of comments from former newcomers welcomed by Whiteley in years past.
• She welcomed me back in 1990 after I moved to Nelson — such a sweet lady.
• A very happy birthday to you, Edna. I am joining the crowd who have thanked you for welcoming them as you welcomed me to Nelson back in 1989! I still remember the lovely lunch you prepared in your kitchen, made so warm by your presence.
• She popped onto my doorstep after maybe three days in town. She was the most welcoming, most engaging, most positive spirit I could imagine. Yes, her visit was quite profound for me as I hadn’t experienced anything quite like that and I had no idea how she even knew I was there. I felt she was a sign of things to come, which she was. She represented the whole welcoming, joyful, spontaneous energy and opportunity that was Nelson to me.
• Happy birthday Edna. You welcomed me to Nelson in 1974 as an immigrant from Australia.
• Thank you for your warm welcome and tucking us in, in 1980, when we first arrived in Nelson.
• Edna welcomed us in 1981. She was a fireplug then and doesn’t look like she has slowed down. Our world needs more Ednas.
• My mom always thought of her as a little firecracker. Always active, always friendly, always involved. Such a wonderful example of human spirit!
David Boyd, the minister at the Nelson United Church, of which Whiteley is a congregation member, tells a story of Whiteley going above and beyond Welcome Wagon.
When he and his young family moved to Nelson in 1995, they arrived several weeks before their furniture. Whiteley and her husband Fred were going away for a while and offered their house to Boyd’s family.
“That epitomizes who Edna was,” Boyd says, “so friendly to people she didn’t know. She lived her faith on her sleeve, with a sense of love and hospitality.”
Whiteley was one of the faces of the Capitol Theatre for several decades starting in 1987, volunteering in the lobby, taking tickets, serving refreshments, always interacting with the public.
“Edna was so thoughtful about how audiences should be treated – always just a lovely face for folks to run into,” says Margaret Stacey, who ran the theatre for much of that time. “And there was that humour, and that twinkle. She just couldn’t stop welcoming people. She was just like that.”
Whiteley was also involved in the creation of the Whitewater ski hill and was one of the most well-known skiers on the hill into her 90s. On her 90th birthday, friends and family organized a surprise birthday party for her at Whitewater.
“There’s quite a number (of skiers at Whitewater) in their 80s,” she told Nelson Star reporter Greg Nesteroff at the time. “But I don’t think there’s anybody 90 yet but me.”