Interpretation Canada Blog

Blogue d’Interprétation Canada

Explore insights about the field of natural and heritage interpretation shared by professionals from across Canada. 

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Explorez les perspectives de professionnels de partout au Canada sur le domaine de l’interprétation de la nature et du patrimoine. 

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  • 13 Nov 2018 4:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Rob Malo

    Although the setting may vary, the educator’s role when guiding inquiry-based learning does not change much. The lines of questioning that will guide any group of learners towards the wanted learning outcomes are very similar in any given environment. The following example will demonstrate how the guide may ask the group of learners the same questions in an inquiry-based learning system when in an indoor setting, an outdoor setting or an imaginary setting. This approach to inquiry-based learning is effective for all age groups including adults.

    THE CANOE: An Inquiry-Based Learning Example

    Educational Goals: Become familiar with how a canoe functions. Discover what materials may be used to build a canoe. Give examples of how canoes have been used traditionally compared to how they are used in modern times.

    Indoor classroom setting: Have the learners organize their seats into the shape of one or more canoes.

    Outdoor setting (with real canoe, paddles and life jackets): With the canoe out of the water, have the students stand around the equipment. Let them pick up a paddle and put on a life jacket at their own pace. Let learners who are familiar with the equipment show others by asking them to demonstrate. Continue this first canoe lesson out of the water as it will help the learners focus their interest on the actual craft and relevant objects related to the wanted learning outcome.

    Imaginary setting: In an empty space, have the learners imagine the shape of a canoe and make-believe putting on life jackets and picking up paddles.

    Before anyone sits in either a constructed, real or imaginary canoe, ask the following:

    Does anyone know what a canoe is? Who here has been in a canoe before? If we are to board a canoe that is in the water, what do we need to wear? What do we need in our hands to guide the canoe? How do we move the canoe over land? How do we navigate it on the water? How do we make the canoe go straight? How do we make it turn? How were canoes made in the past? What are they made of today? What advantages does one material have over another? What were canoes used for in the past? What are they used for today? Are there any others things to know, or are there additional tools and equipment needed in the canoe to ensure the safety of the paddlers? Does anyone know a good paddling song they could teach the group?

    Ask the above questions. Allow enough time for individuals to answer the questions out loud to the larger group or break into smaller groups to research a topic related to the questions. Allow time for the small groups to share their findings with the larger group once gathered again. Let the learners try things out, they may even create props for paddles, life jackets, even voyageur sashes. Let them demonstrate to each other how to paddle or portage the craft. Encourage research of different kinds, either by using screen technology, books, or even contacting experts. Have the group board the canoe pretending that it is really on the water. The guide ends the session by joining the learners in the canoe. Once the group agrees that the educational goals have been reached, let emotions run high while the whole group sings and paddles together.

    Please visit for more lesson plan ideas!

    Raised in a Franco-Manitoban Métis family, Rob Malo is a writer, performer, and community-builder who shares his passion for history and culture through traditional music, storytelling and song. Drawing on his background as an Educational Programs Developer at the Manitoba Museum and as a Professor in the Tourism Department of l'Université de St. Boniface, Rob has been awarded multiple Certificates of Excellence from Interpretation Canada for both TiBert le Voyageur live presentations and digital educational tools.  Contact Rob at

  • 5 Oct 2018 9:40 AM | Deleted user

    By Nick Carter

    During the first week of July, my fellow museum educators and I spend three days roaming the Peace country of Alberta with Derek Larson, our resident palaeontologist, looking for dinosaur bones. Day 1 involved precariously shimmying our way along a high, steep riverbank in the heart of bear country looking for fossils in the underexplored Dunvegan Formation. Day 2 saw us strewn across the ground, under the hot sun, looking for tiny microfossils in the badlands of the Kleskun Hills. Day 3 had us crouched in thick, sticky mud along a well-known creek bank digging fossils from one of the world’s most famous dinosaur bonebeds.

    As a non-scientist, my experience with professional fieldwork is not very extensive. For half of our summer interpreters- university students working on their science and education degrees- it was the first time they’d ever done anything like that before. So why would we leave the comfort and safety of our museum classrooms to venture out in search of fossils we’ll likely never do any research on ourselves?

    I believe authenticity is more desirable than scripted information in interpretation. I’ve been in this line of work at one facility or another for five years now, and I’ve met a lot of interpreters. Many people in this field have a genuine passion for what they talk about, and often go out of their way to learn more and become further immersed in it.

    An all-too-common sight in our field is the interpreter who learns the standard material, knows how to smile and speak clearly, memorizes the program scripts but doesn’t go any further than that. Now, having these public speaking skills and other professional abilities is obviously essential to what we do, but I believe that interpretation can be much more than just impersonal recitation of the facts.

    It’s one thing to read about the subject you talk about. It’s another to actually do it yourself… to get your hands dirty in that world… to be the real thing… even if it’s just for three days. Obviously we shouldn’t expect ourselves to become academic experts in our chosen fields. Our role is to speak about science, art, history, etc. on behalf of those who spend their lives doing those things themselves. But there’s no reason why we, as interpreters, shouldn’t try to become as immersed as we can in what we teach about.

    As much as we gussy up and over-think our jobs, at the end of the day interpretation is simply the art of explaining the meaning of something. We put the technical language of arts, culture, history, and science into words the public can understand and appreciate. Imagine if you wanted to have a conversation with someone who only spoke Japanese, and you needed an interpreter to help you. Would you go for a person who, while speaking perfectly serviceable Japanese, had never been to Japan themselves? What if you had the option of someone who had actually lived there, knew the language, the customs, the culture…. I think the choice is pretty obvious there.

    We took our interpreters out for three days of fossil hunting because it wasn’t enough for them to simply hear about what the world of paleontology is like. They had to live it: to know how to use a geologic hammer, to know what a field jacket is, to know how hot and thirsty the dusty badlands make you, to have stories to tell about the prehistoric treasures they found.

    Your audience is going to ask you tough questions. They want a deep well of knowledge, not a shallow pool. They’re going to remember honest and engaging stories from someone who has actually experienced that life, not paint-by-numbers scripts and cookie-cutter responses. So get out there, already. Talk to experts, see if they’ll take you behind the curtain. Visit other facilities and see how they do things, even if they have very little to do with the subject you interpret. Learn everything you can about as many things as you can. Make friends with other interpreters (if you’re an IC member you’re off to a good start). Follow up “I don’t know” with “but I’ll find out”. Be genuine and enthusiastic, and don’t try to hide that. Know your stuff. Be the real thing.

    Nick Carter is a Science Educator at the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley, AB, and a Naturalist with a special interest in dinosaurs, both living and extinct. Contact via

  • 6 Sep 2018 3:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Pam Murray

    In recent years, those of us who work in interpretation , or in the broader field of visitor experience, have been waking up to the idea that we need to get off the stage and listen to our visitors more.  We may call it participatory interpretation, dialogic interpretation,  ‘guide on the side’, or ‘STFU’, but when it comes down to it, these philosophies all point to the same idea – that we need approach interpretation as well-informed facilitators of experiences, rather than know-it-all experts.

    And yet, in many sites across Canada, from September through June, groups of visitors continue to be enrolled in tightly planned, agenda-driven programs with precise learning outcomes.  These visitors are sometimes grumpy about having to listen to long talks, so we make the talks more fun by using puppets, or songs, or jokes.   These visitors aren’t always great at sitting still, so we incorporate movement and games.  Sometimes, these visitors just really don’t want to participate, so we ask the group to bring along a half-dozen chaperones, in order to ensure that these visitors comply with our directions.  We tell the visitors they have to stay on the trail, aren’t allowed to touch the artifacts or the animals, and can’t eat snacks in the theatre.  They aren’t allowed to opt out of activities, and there may even be consequences if they do.

    Over the past 20 years, I’ve planned and presented school programs in parks, museums, and a fish hatchery visitor centre.  The school programs I currently coordinate, at Milner Gardens & Woodland on Vancouver Island, are different than anything I’ve ever done – mostly because the program was created by folks who didn’t have my preconceived ideas of what school programs are ‘supposed’ to look like.

    The program consists of a series of five linked visits that are each 2.5 hours long.  The students are mostly Grade 1’s. There are no specific learning outcomes dictated by my site. Parent helpers are not allowed, and the programs are offered for free thanks to some incredibly generous supporters and donors.  Beyond this structure, I inherited no written program plans of any kind, so it was up to me to build the content of the entire program from scratch.

    The lack of agenda and parent helpers terrified me at first, but after five years of getting used to the idea, collaborating with teachers, and most importantly listening to my visitors – the children,  I’ve come to think about school programs differently than I used to, and am questioning whether everything I thought I knew might have been wrong.

    I used to think parent helpers, as frustrating as they could sometimes be, were essential.  Without them, I realized quickly that I’d been relying on them to coerce children into participating in programs that may not have been as engaging as I thought they were. Without extra adults to help manage the kids’ behaviour, I got immediate and obvious feedback about what my young visitors wanted to do on their field trips.  They didn’t want to sit and listen, no matter how funny I was.  They wanted to explore the trails, catch bugs in the pond, run on the lawns, tell me long stories about their pets, and climb trees.

    A young visitor demonstrates what children really want to do on field trips.

    I also thought my content and learning outcomes were the whole point of a school program, so the complete lack of agenda from my site was confusing at first.  Having just completed a teaching degree when I started, I looked to provincial curriculum, and the teachers who attended the programs, for ideas. It turned out that most of the teachers I talked to were more concerned with giving their classes the chance to cooperate as a group, develop their critical thinking skills, spend time in nature, and connect with the community than in any particular science outcome that I might focus on. 

    The first year I relied on nature exploration activities I’d had success with in the past, and planned the year on a seasonal theme, from fall leaves and decomposers in October, to pollinators in the spring.  With 2.5 hours to fill, I also allowed a lot of time for snacks, breaks, and free time.  I let kids touch and smash the ice on the Reflecting Pool in the winter, jump in the leaf piles in the fall, visit with the resident cat, and yes, even climb a tree on occasion, not because I thought these activities were important, but because the kids enjoyed them and I needed to kill time.

    I also incorporated a talking stick circle at the end of the session.  The conclusion of a lot of my school programs in the past mostly consisted of “…and so that’s why you should save ohmygosh look at the time, thanks for coming, bye!”.  I knew this wasn’t effective, so with all that time to spare,  I set aside time at the end of each visit to pass a stick around a circle and let each child speak about what they had enjoyed about the visit.

    When I listened to the children during talking stick, I quickly realized that the leaf piles, spontaneous ice experiments, tree climbing, and random events were consistently highlighted as the kids’ favorite part of the day. My carefully planned educational activities rarely made the cut.  I also started hearing other things I’d never heard from children on a school program before:

    “When I come here I get so, like, emotional? Because this is my favorite place. “
    “It is quiet here and feels friendly. “
    “It makes me happy enough that I want to stay here forever.”
    “I came here once all by myself when I was having a dream.”

    If I hadn’t incorporated reflection and free time into my program, I wouldn’t have realized how important these unstructured activities and quiet times were, and how little my agenda actually mattered.   But isn’t this what everything else in visitor experience is pointing to?  Don’t we all know by now that we need to listen to our visitors more, allow them to share the stage, and be facilitators rather than teachers?

    It’s time we applied what we know about effective visitor experience to school programs. And yes, I can already hear everyone’s manager chiming in with ‘But our funding says that we have to..’ and ‘You can’t eliminate parent helpers!’.   We may not be able, as individuals, to make institutional change, and I recognize how lucky I am to run a program where I’m allowed to do school programs this way.   We do all, however, have control over our own attitudes, and it’s high time we started thinking of children as visitors too.  We need to spend more time in school programs listening to children, allowing them to reflect on their experiences, and facilitating exploration, inquiry, and play. We need to de-program school programs, and improve our young visitors’ experiences.

    More reading:
    I was going to cite some articles here that you could read, but they were all written by the same person.  So, if you’d like to learn more about competing agendas during field trips and children’s field trip experiences, I highly recommend acquainting yourself with the work of Dr. David Anderson from the University of British Columbia.  

    Pam Murray is a certified teacher and the current Chair of Interpretation Canada.  She has been delivering school programs in nature centres, parks, and currently at Milner Gardens & Woodland on Vancouver Island, for 20 years. 

  • 17 Aug 2018 8:57 AM | Deleted user

    By Stephanie Yuill

    Interpreters. We’re the life of the party! We’re the people everyone wants to be around! We’re fun, spontaneous, crazy, caring, kind, and compassionate. We want to save the world.

    And sometimes we do.

    But how many of us have thought about ourselves? Have taken the time to remove ourselves from the spotlight, stepped off the stage and looked within at our mental health?

    There’s a lot of pressure on performers both internally and externally. We expect ourselves to give 110% of our energy to the audience and to know the answers to everything. Interpreters are often ‘on’ more than usual because we think that’s what people expect of us; and we often expect it of ourselves too. Who doesn’t want to be centre stage doing good and saving the world?

    However, all those hormones coursing through our bodies during a presentation (and/or before, and/or after) can have lingering effects unless we purposefully set out to care for our mental health. The most well-known ones are adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenal gland, which releases the hormones, has kept primal and modern humans alive for over 2 million years.

    So aren’t they good for us?

    Definitely. They are part of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which helps the body respond to a perceived threat. Commonly known as the fight or fight response. Our pupils dilate making our vision better. Our brain become focused and engaged. Some of our body’s systems are suppressed which allows us to work harder and last longer.  

    New interpreters may notice this experience more, but even seasoned presenters will feel that boost of adrenaline before walking ‘on stage’.

    Traditionally, when the threat is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) takes over from the SNS. Norepinephrine is released, our bodies start to calm, muscles relax, pupils return to their pre-stimulus state, and our heart rates slow down. The adrenaline and cortisol decrease to natural levels. We all know that feeling after leading an all-day hike, finishing an amphitheater program or simply after summer programming is done: that sigh of relief!

    In our modern, fast-paced world, we don’t always give the PNS time to do its job. We go from a one-hour long program to a campfire program. Or from an all-day hike to home where the adrenaline continues to keep us going to get everything done.

    And if the PNS isn’t doing its job, stress is a result. Most of us know the physical effects from too much stress: fatigue, high blood pressure, bone loss, headaches and muscle weakness.

    We may not, however, connect these hormones to our mental health. Sustained periods of adrenaline and cortisol, without the relief of norepinephrine, can lead to mood changes, sleep disruption, lowered concentration and irritability. And these can spiral into anxiety and depression.  

    I should know. I suffer from depression. I have for decades. While I suffer from clinical depression, I am all too aware of how easy it is for me to spiral when I’m not taking care of myself. I help control mine with antidepressants but every avenue I pursue make me feel better!

    Hormones are not the only things that lead to poor mental health. I just ask that you take a few minutes a day to address YOUR mental health needs:

    • Get off the stage long enough to go for a walk, meditate!
    • Step out of the limelight to talk to friends, attend a yoga class.
    • Use your interpreter research skills to learn more about mental health or look up healthy recipes to try!
    • Pause in your busy day to simply take a breather.
    • Walk away from your job for a few hours and do other things you are passionate about. I know saving the world is important…but saving yourself if equally as so!!

    So from one brain to other, take care,


    As someone who lives with a mental illness, Stephanie is an advocate for all things that makes our brains healthier! Including opening up about her depression. But never fear, canoeing, reading, yoga, walking, friends, Eliza her dog, rainbow sunglasses, travelling and good food all contribute to a balanced Steph!

  • 15 Jul 2018 1:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Marie Stradeski

    Is it enough to respect nature? Will our technologically dependent urbanized society interfere with our children’s ability to bond with nature? How can we get more people to connect to the rhythms of the earth? How important is ‘dancing’ with nature to nurture the ‘wild’ within? These are some of the questions I wondered as I wandered into my thesis on ecological education.

    The beat of my own drum advocates for the ideal of teaching reverence for nature. Reverence not only entails a deep respect but also requires wonder, awe and love. I believe that those who develop a reverence for nature will honour the inherent interconnectedness of all things and gain a healthy sense of belonging. This emotional bond to the earth heals us and is essential if we are to become stewards of that which brings us life.

    Such an intimate connection doesn’t happen by occasional visits to a park. Ongoing direct experiences in the wilderness, away from the distractions of consumerism and technology, are necessary to form this intimate relationship. Teaching reverence for nature needs to be integrated throughout all curriculum so that three essential forms of knowing are developed:

    1. Knowing oneself deeply; that is, connecting with one's true self;

    2. Knowing one's connection to the living Earth, both ecologically and spiritually and

    3. Knowing one's connection to the human community.

    These ways of knowing are embedded in the eco-pedagogical framework I created for the Saskatoon Natural Grasslands Ecological Education Guide. The teacher guide has a lesson for each of the four themes for each grade from Kindergarten to Grade Eight. The four themes explore different ways of invoking a reverence for nature:

    1. Awaken to Diversity

    2. Appreciate Nature’s Symphony

    3. Experience the Mystery

    4. Tread Softly

    Each lesson is comprised of three pedagogical components for teaching reverence for nature: 1) Rouse Interest; 2) Relate; and 3) Reflect. A different twist to the traditional three Rs that our education system has focused on in the past. But as my research attests, children will not commit to reducing, reusing and recycling if they have not developed a reverence for nature. If pressured to do so before that relationship develops, an eco-phobia could take root instead.

    'Rouse Interest' activities provide the motivational set by building enthusiasm and focusing their attention for the direct experience in nature that is planned next. These activities relate to the first way of knowing, 'Knowing oneself deeply', in that they involve opportunities for students to get to know what they are interested in and prepares them to focus on their personal interest when they interact with nature. To rouse students' interest, these activities try to encompass the whole child by encouraging the use of the body through physical action, the mind through the sharing of knowledge, the spirit through the sharing of emotions and passions. The objective is for students to connect with one's true self so that they are better able to connect with other students, other beings in the wild and the wilderness itself.

    Interpreter Brad Muir rousing interest before a Wolf Howl at which participants will directly experience what it is like to be a wolf exploring the park in the dark.

    The 'Relate' activities provide direct experiences in nature in order for students to foster empathy with ecosystem members and to have students gain a sense of their own interconnectedness with nature. Spending time interacting with nature provides opportunities for students to experience the wonder and awe that nature inspires. The main goal for the 'Relate' activities is to give students many opportunities to build a relationship with nature. These activities relate to the second way of knowing, 'Knowing one's connection to the living Earth', because they provide direct experiences in nature that involve sensory exploration and personal discovery. The experiences of wonder and awe and the feelings of deep respect and love that students develop will eventually lead to a reverence for nature.

    The 'Reflect' activities in the teacher guide process what they learned through creativity, imagination, and solitude and provide them with the opportunity to share and inspire others. If children are able to reflect on how nature connects with their own inner nature, the bond they have with nature will be strengthened. In getting to know nature at an intimate level, students are able to see that their place in the universe is to live as part, not apart from nature. If personal connections are made then students will welcome opportunities to conserve what has helped them feel whole. Because this section involves creative activities for students to share their inspirations to educate others in the community, it thus incorporates the 'Knowing one's connection to the human community'.

    Teaching reverence for nature honours the individual nature of each individual as well as honouring humanity's interconnectedness with nature, human and non-human. As educators and/or interpreters, it is so important to nurture our own reverence for nature by spending time in the wilderness and connecting with the wildness within. Joseph Cornell (2001), an inspirational nature educator, claims:

    "To communicate wonder, we must have a spirit of wonder. A leader who is filled with wonder, joy, and love for the natural world draws out these good feelings in others. In the presence of such a leader, people eagerly want to experience these same feelings for themselves.....An individual whose heart is filled with love and reverence for nature can make ecological attitudes come alive for others as nothing else can."

    Let’s practise listening to the common pulse of our one and only planet earth, learn to dance to its wondrous rhythms with reverence and invite others to join in the celebration of life.

    This article is derived from Marie's thesis on Teaching Reverence for Nature: An Eco-philosophical foundation for the Saskatoon Laurel Grasslands Ecological Education Guide and Kit. If you are interested in this research and would like an electronic copy of it, contact her at ecodreamer(at)

  • 15 Jun 2018 10:42 AM | Deleted user

    By Jacquie Gilson, Doctor of Social Sciences

    I just finished a thought provoking online course called Reconciliation through Indigenous Education and it inspired me to reflect upon how the field of interpretation could contribute to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. I humbly admit to knowing very little about this topic, but I wanted to share my key learnings from the course and hope that this diablog will spur some conversation on the topic within the field of interpretation. I have very little experience in working with Indigenous peoples and look forward to hearing from others on this topic.

    I’ve summarized my learnings into three R’s of Reconciliation: Respect, Relationships and Reconsidering, and have incorporated ideas we covered in the course, as well as examples that I know about from my over 30 years’ experience in interpretation.


    Any reconciliation efforts interpreters are involved in have to show respect to individual Indigenous people, as well as respect for their different cultures. One way to show respect is by starting interpretive programs with an acknowledgment of the local nations’ connections to the land where the program takes place. We did this in 2017 in Lake Louise and my interpreters admitted it felt somewhat awkward, but that it was very worthwhile. Incorporating Indigenous peoples’ languages in place name signs also acknowledges their connections to places. While I have trouble pronouncing them, I love seeing the Indigenous place names on the signs in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. I think respect could also be shown through working closely with Indigenous peoples to develop interpretive programs together and not merely inviting them to do a dance or other potentially superficial demonstration. I’ve been told that Elders and Knowledge Keepers are usually very happy to be invited to share their stories at a local site; what amazing and authentic first-hand experiences this would provide for visitors! And I think it would be even better if the visitors were encouraged to share what the Indigenous peoples’ stories mean to them.


    As a non-Indigenous person, a.k.a. a settler, I realize that I need to develop relationships with local Indigenous people before working with them to offer Indigenous interpretation for visitors to the Lake Louise area. I have some experience with Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and am impressed with what they have achieved; through an agreement with the local Metis group, authentic and very popular Indigenous interpretive programming is offered at the site. My colleague in Jasper National Park has just been involved in setting up an Indigenous peoples interpretive advisory committee and I’m excited to hear more as they get it going. And I noticed online that the Sitka Tribe in Alaska has entered into a collaborative partnership with the US National Park Service to co-manage the site’s interpretive program. I’m sure there are many other great examples out there and I’m also sure that they didn’t just happen overnight, but are a result of much time and effort put into relationship building.


    This is the toughest and most important of the three R’s. Before interpretation can contribute anything to reconciliation, the history of sites need to be reconsidered and tough questions asked, such as “Whose story is this?” and “Where did this information come from?” In many cases, stories being shared in interpretation will need to be repositioned to include multiple perspectives. For example, many site histories start with settlement, when the stories should be starting with use of the land by the Indigenous peoples.

    I have been experimenting with a new approach to interpretation known as Dialogic Interpretation and I think it offers an ideal means for considering multiple perspectives. For example, Yellowstone Forever, the nonprofit group associated with Yellowstone National Park, engages clients in dialogue on the controversial topic of bison on the landscape. Visitors debate the issue from various perspectives including those of the local ranchers, tourists, wildlife conservationists, state, park and First Nations groups. Interpretation that aims to provide visitors with different viewpoints, rather than the one single perspective of the agency, seems ideally suited towards reconciliation efforts.

    Reconsidering the content and how it is shared in interpretation may help towards reconciliation; however, more importantly, interpreters and others need to rethink the predominant colonial viewpoint that North American society is based upon. For Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to be equal partners in interpretation, roles need to be reassessed. Colonials or settlers, like myself, have to learn to share the stage and be less paternalistic in our approaches to interpretation.

    For the past few years I have been excited to guide my interpreters in using interactive approaches in interpretation, i.e., dialogic, participatory and other forms of visitor-centred interpretation. I believe that these collaborative techniques are ideally suited to reconciliation; they encourage sharing and respect for all participant’s views and take the interpreter from the “sage on the stage” to focusing on “facilitation for inspiration.” I don’t think interpreters need to STFU but need to be “the guide on the side”; this means being visitor-centred, making room for all stories, and involving people in hands-on and meaningful experiences that will encourage them to make up their own minds about the place and what it means to them.

    Upon reflection, I believe there are many ways interpretation could contribute to reconciliation and the few ideas I have presented here merely scratch the surface of possibilities. Indigenous partners need to be treated with respect, relationships need to be nurtured, and sites’ history and stories need to be reconsidered from multiple perspectives, and on top of it all, the purpose of interpretation and approaches we use need to be reconsidered.

    I’d love to hear from others. How do you think we are doing with reconciliation through interpretation and what else could we be doing?

    Photo Credit: Parks Canada

    Additional Resources:

    The course I took was called Reconciliation through Indigenous Education and was offered by edX in conjunction with the University of BC. For more information see

    I also recommend this awesome resource:

    Jacquie lives in Canmore on the traditional land of the Tsuu T'ina, Niitsítapi (Blackfoot), Stoney and Ktunaxa.

    She completed her doctorate in 2015 after studying the concept of inspiration in interpretation. As the Interpretation Coordinator with Parks Canada in Lake Louise, she strives to combine theory and practice to improve interpretation and help connect visitors to place in ways that are meaningful to them. In her spare time she runs her own consulting company, InterpActive Planning and Training. 

  • 17 May 2018 5:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Wendy Niven

    What is a Heritage Interpreter, or Interpretive Guiding? I looked it up to see what was out there as far as definitions go, and came away with:

    • “All the ways in which information is communicated to visitors to an educational, natural or recreational site”
    • “The art of helping people explore and appreciate our world”
    • “A structured approach to non-formal learning specialised in communicating significant ideas about a place to people on leisure”
    • “Any communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of cultural and natural heritage to the public”

    And, as the definitions vary, so does the quality of the people delivering it. While there are a lot of amazing non-certified interpreters out there, what really qualifies a person to call themselves one? How does an employer know they are hiring the best? How does a client or visitor know they are getting a quality product? That’s where certification comes in.

    My own journey as an Interpretive Guide began with certification. That’s because I work in a Canadian National Park and Parks Canada recognized many years ago that it needed to establish a level of proficiency for people who called themselves guides in national parks to ensure their visitors were safe and had a quality experience. The two main organizations that provide the certifications that Parks Canada recognizes are the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and the Interpretive Guides Association (IGA). The route I chose was with the IGA.

    To be certified as a Professional Interpreter means to have a achieved a level of knowledge and proficiency that one can really hang their hat on."
    Photo credit: Interpretive Guides Association

    It all began in 2016. Recently laid off from a job as a visitor services and communications staffer for Parks Canada, I was floating around wondering what I should do next when a friend invited me to guide for her company that upcoming summer. Since I lived in Jasper National Park, and that’s where the guiding company operated, I needed to become certified as an Apprentice Interpretive Guide with the IGA.

    I wasn’t unfamiliar with the IGA. I had done their basic certification in 2012 in order to work as a backcountry wrangler for my horse outfitting friend. With my Parks Canada background, the basic certification process wasn’t difficult for me, and I expected the Apprentice Interpreter certification to be similarly simple. Boy was I surprised!

    The Apprentice Interpreter course introduced me to a whole new way of looking at guiding. It’s where I learned how to really be a guide - an Interpretive Guide. There is a process to it. And a level of professionalism that’s required to do it well. What I also discovered that first summer of interpretive guiding was how much fun it was. And how lucrative it can be if you are good at it.

    The next step on my journey was to complete the IGA’s Professional Interpreter certification. To be completely truthful, the primary reason I signed up for the course was simply to improve my knowledge and skills. I didn’t think much about the certification itself or its value. It wasn’t until I did the exams that I got it. This was no walk in the park. It takes practice, effort, knowledge and skill to become accredited at this level.

    To be certified as a Professional Interpreter means to have a achieved a level of knowledge and proficiency that one can really hang their hat on. It means you have invested time, energy and effort into honing your skills and becoming really good at what you do. It means you have taken it on as your profession and your means of earning a living.

    Being able to call myself a Professional Interpreter, and to back up my claim with certification from a recognized, credible organization has improved my confidence, helped me command a better price and allowed me to join a growing community of people who call Interpretive Guiding their career.

    It has been a fun journey - and it’s not over yet.

    Wendy Niven is a freelance interpretive guide, web developer and outdoor enthusiast based in Jasper, Alberta. 

    To learn more about the Interpretive Guides Association and their certification programs, visit

  • 9 Apr 2018 2:10 PM | Deleted user

    By Don Enright

    For those of us who work as front-line interpreters, the chance to sink our teeth into an interpretive writing project can be equal parts exciting and terrifying. It can be so very rewarding to think that your work will be seen by hundreds or thousands of people; that it will be professionally edited; that it will have a graphic designer’s touch; that it will be printed on fine-quality paper or beautiful high-pressure laminate.

    But there are big, scary challenges with interpretive writing, and one of the biggest is trying to define the scope of the project you’ve been given. Everybody has a different definition of what interpretive writing is, and you need to ask a lot of probing questions before you take on the work. Here’s what I try to ask:

    1. By interpretive writing, do you mean interpretive planning? Do you want me to identify your target markets for you, define your project goals, set out a thematic framework, and figure out where this writing project fits in with your greater vision and mandate? Because that’s a lot of work, and it would be really helpful if you had some of that work done ahead of time.
    2. By interpretive writing, do you mean research and writing? And if so, do you expect me to track down primary sources? Or do you mean word smithing, where you have a subject matter expert put together a set of source documents for me to write from? Because A is really time consuming, where B can be done on the quick.
    3. By interpretive writing, do you mean writing and graphic design? Am I expected to lay it out, choose the fonts, find the images and so on? And who will do the fabrication and installation? Because that’s a lot of legwork, too.

    Fortunately, you have a few tools at your disposal to help you take the bull by the horns and avoid wasting time faffing about with uncertainty.

    First, ask for a project brief. It’s a standard project management tool that includes the goals or benefits of the project, a project timeline, an analysis of risks, constraints and assumptions, a task list and a responsibility assignment matrix.

    “Now wait,” I hear you saying. “My boss would sooner sing opera on a unicycle than produce a project brief for me.”

    I hear you. Managers sometimes have trouble assigning work clearly and efficiently. I don’t know why it’s such a problem to them, except that for a certain type of manager, parting with useful information somehow compromises their power and control.

    So if that sounds like your boss/client, you’re going to have to write that project brief yourself. It doesn’t have to be onerous—it just takes a little time (and trust me, time spent clarifying a project at the beginning is going to be time, tears, and sleepless nights saved on the other end.)

    As a freelancer, I do this all the time with my clients: “Would you like me to write up a little proposal and timeline? Then you can tell me how it fits in with your needs and schedule.” Boom. Done.

    In that proposal, I’m always careful to write it in such a way that it highlights a) work I like to do and do well;  b) timelines that I can actually achieve and c) contingencies (a little extra time and money) for things going wrong.

    In my proposal, I break the work down into phases—even for a small project. It allows me to get things delivered early (thus thwarting my own procrastination), and to get feedback early. And I always subdivide each phase into three sections: a) input- what I need from my client; b) output- what I produce for you and c) outcome- what that effort is supposed to accomplish. I build in a feedback period after each phase, so the client (your manager) can sign off on the work before I get too far into the following phase.

    If I’m expected to work as part of a team, I always include a responsibility assignment matrix. These are magical tools, particularly if you have a client/manager who has trouble delegating specific tasks to specific people. Simply write a task list down the left side of a table; put the team members across the top of the table; then for each task, assign each team member a role. These matrices are sometimes called RACIs, because in the matrix, someone is (R)esponsible for delivering the task; someone else (A)pproves the task; someone else is (C)onsulted, and perhaps someone is simply (I)nformed. Everyone has a role, and nobody is confused. (One of the most intelligent rules of project management is that you never assign the same task to two people. Can you imagine how much easier your life would be if your boss always followed that rule?)

    I realize this sounds like a lot of left-brain, Type-A work for a writing assignment that should be creative and artistic and fun. But I find that it’s worth it. The creativity flows a whole lot better when I know exactly what is expected of me, and the feedback sessions tend to be a lot less stressful when I’m confident that I’m delivering exactly what is being asked.

    I wish you every success with your interpretive writing project.


    Project briefs:

    Google “project brief” and “creative brief” (not quite the same but related and useful.) Here are a couple of resources—


    For technical jargon, species names, capitalizations, abbreviations and the like, you need to get to know Termium and its accompanying style guide, “The Canadian Style.” These may be the most under-used writing resources in Canada, and they rock.

    Don Enright is a freelance interpretive planner and writer who works with parks, museums, and other heritage organizations to help them fulfil their missions and increase their relevance. Follow Don through his blog at, or contact him at

  • 12 Mar 2018 1:36 PM | Deleted user

    By Lisa McDonald

    If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. - David Sobel

    Parents and other role models provide the strongest influence in creating a child’s capacity to show empathy to other living things including birds, mammals and insects. (Mary Gordon, 2001)   

    In our staff training we emphasize that every interpretive team member plays a vital role in connecting children to nature. For the last 3 years our team has made it a goal to connect children to nature through their sense of touch.  

    Touch involves our emotion, thinking, sensing and motor systems.  It is so critical to human development that it is the first of our senses to develop in the womb.  When children touch-especially with the fingertips and palms of their hands, they begin to form an understanding of the world around them.  Recognizing the importance of touch we’ve planned our education resource acquisition to connect young hearts and minds.

    We began by supplementing our traditional teaching tools of photos, skulls and bones with small, realistic, whole animal toys. We’ve connected with several artisans that make life-like, soft-bodied, cuddly animal replicas through Etsy, the e-commerce website focused on handmade items.   We encourage even the youngest children to hold, manipulate and closely examine them, and yes, we encourage connecting through play. Items begin to look a little rough and ragged but we consider wear and tear tremendously encouraging and indicative of educational success!!

    Stories can also create powerful emotional connections.  When we encourage a child to think about how another person or animal might be feeling, we are helping them to become kind, considerate and caring.  (Mary Gordon; 2001) Communicating thoughts and feelings through face to face contact is a very important part of being able to understand the thoughts and feelings of another human being.  (Michele Borba, 2016).

    The lemurs in our new walkthrough exhibit sparked positive emotions in our guests and we wanted to take that connection further by creating a large, colorful, community conservation storybook to guide family conversations about lemurs and the forests they live in.  Messages of love, not loss were key to our theme.

    Our community conservation story is told by fictional Malagasy sisters, Tandra and Felona.  They share impressions of their life in Madagascar and we see that they have a mother, father, a baby sister and aunties.  They talk about their love of their home, lemurs and forests. The story, told through illustrations, words and photos is fun, simple and happy.

    Time is so precious to young families on the move.  A key learning for our team has been to lead play and storytime where guests have shade, water and comfy seating. Families and friends can rest, relax and relate while our teams are making inspiring connections with the children.

    Our next step is measuring the effectiveness of our techniques-something that our colleagues at St. Louis Zoo  and Seattle Aquarium are exploring. We think we’re on the right track. If you have any advice we’d love to hear from you!

    If you’d like to read more:

    Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy, 2001.

    Michele Borba, Unselfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World, 2016.

    Lisa McDonald is the Manager of Visitor Engagement and Interpretive Planning at the Calgary Zoo.  She's currently exploring ways to connect with audiences through empathy development,  conservation psychology and nature play.

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Writers' Guidlines

Blog articles should be 500 to 1,000 words in length. They should be written in an interpretive style, with a focus on clarity and accessible language. Articles should include at least one photo—the writer must have permission to share the image, and include credit details. We encourage you to include links to further readings and resources.

Please also share a short biography (25-50 words), including contact information for readers to contact you for more information. Feel free to include links to your organization or business website here.

We publish articles at our discretion, and reserve the right to edit content for clarity, accuracy, length, or style. By submitting an article, writers demonstrate that they agree with this statement.

Articles are posted in the language in which they were submitted.

Guide de rédaction

Les articles de blogue devraient compter de 500 à 1 000 mots. Ils devraient être rédigés dans une langue accessible et dans un style interprétatif mettant l’accent sur la clarté du message. Les articles devraient s’accompagner d’au moins une photo pour laquelle l’auteur a obtenu les permissions nécessaires et fourni les détails pertinents sur la source. Nous vous invitons à fournir des liens menant à d’autres lectures et outils.

Veuillez aussi fournir une notice biographique (de 25 à 50 mots), ainsi que les coordonnées où les lecteurs et lectrices pourront vous joindre pour obtenir de plus amples renseignements. Vous pouvez inclure ici des liens menant au site web de votre entreprise ou de votre organisation.

En soumettant un article, les auteurs confirment qu’ils acceptent cette condition.

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Interprétation Canada  a/s du Kerry Wood Nature Centre, 6300 45e Avenue, Red Deer, Alberta T4N 3M4

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