“I wanted to spend time around people on vacation,” says Alida Visbach, President and CEO of Heritage Park. “People having a good time are disposed to being in a good mood, and I like people in a good mood.”
photo by Ingrid Kuenzel
Born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, of Dutch parents, Visbach grew up with her parents’ nursery and other businesses. Her father also worked the stock market and was a hard taskmaster. “We all had dinner together every night, that was mandatory,” she recalls. But at 6:30 pm, conversation stopped, the radio would go on, and everybody would be quiet while he listened to the stock market report.
On retiring, her father opened a campground, and the young Visbach would do unglamorous things like clean the washrooms, and check in campers. “I think that really gave me the taste for tourism, and wanting to be around people who were having a day off,” she says.
Her friends talked about going west to seek their fortune after graduating, but Visbach didn’t want to be like everyone else, and moved to South Africa to work in her uncle’s business, feeding her need for adventure. She travelled through Europe until she ran out of money and headed home to university, and evening work in restaurants to pay for it. “I really enjoyed doing that as well,” she says, “and when the flagship Hilton International opened in St. John, I landed a job there.”
Over the following years, Visbach worked her way up in various hotel groups to VP Marketing, before taking an Economic Development and Tourism contract with New Brunswick government. “My territory was the US and Japan, with a secondary focus on Europe,” she says. “I travelled two to three weeks out of every month, year-round, though I got to see some fascinating places.”
King’s Landing, the provincial crown corporation in Fredericton, then came knocking. “I was the Director of Marketing for several years and then was promoted to CEO,” says Visbach. “It was 1 km away from where my mother was living on her own.” While there, she tripled the food and beverage revenue, and built two sewerage treatment plants, but in April 2005, she was headhunted again to run a living history museum with multiple revenue streams in Calgary. For three months Visbach commuted between Fredericton and Calgary, before moving here for good.
“I love living in Calgary and I love working at Heritage Park, it was the right decision,” she explains. “People are so hospitable here and willing to help out… since I’ve come here, I’ve never given more or volunteered more, it’s like breathing.”
So what wine is Visbach is saving for a special occasion?
A bottle of Laughing Stock Portfolio is sitting on the table. “I purchased this bottle in the fall of 2014,” says Visbach. “We took my little red convertible with the top down, and drove through the mountains in beautiful late August, through Osoyoos and Penticton. We took a wine tour and I got to choose some of the wineries. I really wanted to go to Laughing Stock as a good friend of mine hereused to be a stockbroker, and she had two friends who were also stockbrokers, and they got out of the business and bought a little winery on the Naramata Bench.” She continues,
“This bottle is a 2012, but the vintner said at the time that it really should age, and we have a great cellar where we store wine, it’s nice and cool and dark.”
And when will Visbach open the bottle?
Ultimately, she’s going to have to retire at some point, and when that time comes, this will be the bottle she’ll open to celebrate.