Interpretation Canada Blog

Blogue d’Interprétation Canada

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

Are you interested in writing for us? We would love to hear from you. Articles about interpretation skills, program case studies, resource reviews, and research about best practices are all ideal. We have a diverse membership and prefer topics that are relevant for interpreters in many settings. To suggest an idea for an article, please contact us at Our writers' guidelines can be found here.

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

Aimeriez-vous contribuer au blogue? Écrivez-nous! Des billets sur les compétences en interprétation, des études de cas sur des programmes, des revues de littérature et des articles de recherche sur des pratiques exemplaires : voilà autant d’articles qui conviennent parfaitement. Nos membres étant issus de milieux divers, nous accordons la priorité aux sujets pertinents pour des professionnels œuvrant dans des contextes très variés. Pour suggérer un sujet d’article, écrivez-nous à Consultez notre guide de rédaction ici.

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  • 13 Mar 2023 8:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Sandi Stewart

    Upcoming Online Dialogue

    Hello everyone,

    You may recognize me as a volunteer from last year’s conference in Halifax. I was involved in posting social media content during that time, so you may have seen me behind the camera on site visits and during sessions throughout the week. I decided to join the Interpretation Canada Board of Directors as Membership Secretary late last year after feeling inspired by the organization’s important contributions in the heritage sector. I also now contribute to the newly formed Professional Development (PD) and Communications group with my amazing IC peers. The PD group has had many discussions around the value of participatory learning, and we look forward to framing our upcoming online sessions with this approach in mind.

    We have exciting plans this year and look forward to collaborating with the IC community. Our first online session will take place in May (details to follow shortly). 

    In preparation, let’s start thinking about the question, what does interpretation mean to you?> This question will help guide our upcoming dialogue. I will act as a facilitator and offer a few guiding questions, but we would love to hear from you as well. Do you have a question to share? Please let us know!

    Would you like your memorable moment working, volunteering, and/or participating in interpretation to be highlighted during the first session? Let us know!  We invite you to submit a photo with a short description (up to 1 paragraph) and/or short video (up to 3 minutes in length) of a memorable moment you’ve experienced in interpretation. This could be from your job, studies, and/or visitor experience. These submissions will be shared and be sure to inspire others. 

    The session will take place on Saturday, May 13th, 3-4PM Atlantic

    There will also be plenty of opportunities to engage, brainstorm, and work together! Please contact me to contribute your content. I look forward to connecting with you soon.


    Sandi Stewart

    Membership Secretary

    Image credit: Image by Alexa from Pixabay

  • 12 Dec 2022 12:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This year, we asked what our colleagues were up to at their sites as part of their winter or holiday calendar. This is what we heard.

    Kerry Wood Nature Centre

    Hello Friends! I hope this finds you well and warm!

    When “Insta-Winter” hit Alberta, it didn’t slow us down; we’re busy year-round at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. We’ve whipped out the snowshoes for public rentals and free family programs, and are gearing up to host the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour in January. We’re talking to schools about rocks and owls, and creating new escape room-themed programming for families looking for some fun over the holidays. All this, while our Nature Preschool keeps playing, and our Nature Store is bustling with birdseed sales!

    Wishing everyone a happy holiday season, however you celebrate.


    Kathryn and Crew from the Kerry Wood Nature Centre

    Saskatchewan Parks

    Thanks to Robin Campese for telling us about these events.

    Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park:

    • Trim your Tree is on until Dec. 23 and with a permit, visitors can cut down their own Christmas tree, which aids in fire prevention as the trees are in a designated fire break area so harvesting those trees is beneficial to the park. 
    • Every Saturday till March will be a guided snowshoe hike called “If these Hills Could Talk” along with a late evening hike called “Light up the Night Hike”.

    Duck Mountain Provincial Park:

    • Massive snow maze is available for visitors to navigate through, complete with an ice bar

    Pike Lake Provincial Park:

    • Festival of Lights was held in December where local residents and business decorate campsites for Christmas and the attendees can vote on their favourite display.
    • Held on Saturdays, “Where the Wild Winter Things Are”  guided snowshoe hike along with “Chirp with the Chickadees” snowshoe hike take place all winter long.

    Echo Valley Provincial Park:

    • “Illuminated Snowshoe Hike” is held every Friday till March.
    • “Where the Winter Wild Things Are” guided snowshoe is held every Saturday until March./li>
    • Skate the Park – skate through the Aspen campground and enjoy the frosty scenery all winter long.

    Buffalo Pound Provincial Park:

    • Every Saturday visitors can enjoy “New to Nordic” – a guided Nordic ski, teaching people the basics of Nordic skiing in a beautiful park setting.
    • Also, every Saturday, visitors can “Snowshoe to the Bison” which is a guided snowshoe along the park’s bison complex.

    We also have reservable winter camping available in these winter parks and our Camp Easy yurts and tents in these parks are available for reservation as well.

  • 10 Apr 2022 4:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Erin Poulton


    This article is based on segments of Taming the Intangible; a presentation delivered at Interpretation Canada’s annual conference in September 2021. It examines nuances in the ways that content can be unknown to visitors, and explores how each of these differences can present inherent strengths and weaknesses.

    A pint-sized astronaut conducts important space research. 

    (Credit: Canada Aviation and Space Museum)


    Curiosity is the cornerstone of a successful museum experience. Each visitor has a unique perspective—a set of interests, preferences, experiences, and pre-conceptions—that shapes their choices within an exhibition. If the opportunities for exploration mesh well with their personal motivations, a visitor will likely have an engaging, memorable, or maybe even a transformative experience. 

    One means of assessing this visitor-content relationship is to group potential content into three categories: what the target audience knows, what they acknowledge not knowing, and what they have not yet been exposed to. Testing is of course a valuable tool in assessing visitors’ knowledge and interest in a given topic. Consider exploring not only their existing knowledge levels, but also their self-awareness of lacking knowledge, as this can provide an added layer of insight.

    In the case of “known unknowns,” to repurpose a political idiom, the audience often knows “what” but not “why” or “how.” This can include topics such as how the human body’s systems work, or why astronauts seem to float in space. In these instances, we can meet visitors where they are. By building on the visitor’s base knowledge, confirming what they know and correcting any misconceptions, we can make it easier for them to process new information. In these instances, quick understanding or mastery are possible, so we can harness that hook to encourage deeper learning. Similarly, a visitor’s general awareness of the topic may help them to acknowledge its importance and in turn augment their interest—a cognitive bias that we can work with.

    In contrast, there are “unknown unknowns.” If a young child does not know what an atom is, then for them it’s a complete unknown unknown. Contrast them with their older sibling—they know that atoms exist, and while they can’t say why or how, they recognize that atoms make up all matter. Each child is starting their discovery from a different place, and requires different supporting context. This scenario presents interesting opportunities to scaffold learning through collaboration. Note that it won’t always be the youngest visitors with the least existing knowledge—children can often help their parents or caregivers to grasp new concepts! When a concept is completely new to a visitor, there are some inherent positives. We may have fewer misconceptions to unpack in presenting our material. We can also leverage the element of surprise—we have the ability to amaze!

    As we have been realizing with greater clarity, a more challenging “unknown unknown” can be the ingrained biases that impact visitors’ perceptions within an exhibition. A visitor may believe in gender equality, yet still initially envision scientists or technical experts as male. Similarly, visitors may unknowingly favour more familiar historical narratives (such as Eurocentric tellings of Canadian histories). Not all visitors may have been presented with alternatives, so when unknown base concepts form the underpinning of an exhibition’s premise this can pose obstacles. Certainly, this presents rich opportunities for dialogue and learning, but once again we need to meet people where they are. We need to lay out new structures and share missing definitions in ways that respect our audiences’ needs and encourage their curiosity. 

    It can’t be overstressed—testing is imperative. As interpreters, we have keen perceptions about our core audiences’ needs and levels of understanding. We never really know if we are correct, though, until we test our theories. What we learn has the power to help us better tailor experiences to our audiences needs, supporting exploration and engagement.

    Erin Poulton is the Exhibition Interpretation Officer at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. She has been working in museums for over twenty years, with experience developing and coordinating a wide range of exhibitions, programs, educational resources, and events. A skilled communicator, Erin approaches her work with a balance of critical thinking and creativity. 

  • 14 Mar 2022 4:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Nadine Dagenais-Dessaints, Carolyn Holland, and Erin Poulton


    This article is based on segments of Taming the Intangible; a presentation delivered at Interpretation Canada’s annual conference in September 2021. It presents strategies for supporting visitors as they explore unseen processes or theoretical concepts, sharing recent techniques from the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.


    A living display delves below the surface, quite literally, in Soil Superheroes.

    (Credit: Canada Agriculture and Food Museum)

    Intangible topics can be some of the most rewarding to interpret. Subject matter that is inherently “hidden,” such as technical systems and biological cycles, is ripe with opportunities to harness visitors’ curiosity. Fun can quickly turn to frustration, though, if visitors don’t receive the support they need to make meaning. People often rely on their senses—among them sight, sound, and touch—to perceive and understand the world around them. How then do we effectively explain how residual plant material turns into soil, how an airplane is safely guided between cities, or how evolving gender biases inform domestic technologies? As the interpretive planners at Ingenium, Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation, we often ask ourselves this very question.

    As you can imagine, intangible topics are often the cornerstone of science and technology-related exhibitions. In recent years, each of our museums has planned exhibitions that challenged teams to find creative solutions that help visitors to envision, and in turn comprehend, topics that they can’t concretely see.

    One initial tactic is to find a simple base principle to organize an exhibition’s structure. If your topic isn’t simple, at least your structure can be. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s recent exhibition Eyes on the Skies demystifies Canada’s complex air navigation system. As you can imagine, air traffic management involves a lot of unfamiliar terms, complicated equipment, and in-depth technical detail. To keep things easy for a non-expert audience to follow, the exhibition is divided into three simple sections: Systems, People, and Technologies. These relatable headings can help visitors to organize and make meaning from the information they encounter as they explore the exhibition. 

    Eyes on the Skies.

    (Credit: Canada Aviation and Space Museum)

    From there, the exhibition includes a variety of media that make intangible ideas visual. Infographics demonstrate how airliners are organized into “highways in the sky” to fly over the North Atlantic, for instance, or illustrate the different types of airspace that surround a commercial airport. Animated motion graphics explain, with a touch of whimsy, how surveillance technologies like radar are used to communicate with aircraft. Similarly, a series of vignettes emphasize the faces behind air traffic management—giving a complex topic human dimension.  

    Analogies can also be helpful in making complex content more cognitively accessible. Soil Superheroes, which opened in 2021 the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, explores the fact that human life depends on the balanced interactions between the different components that make up soil. Soil is indeed a hidden world—one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth, it not only provides us with food, fuel, and fibre, but also filtrates our water, and regulates our climate by absorbing carbon from the air. The exhibition team reimagined the message of the exhibition, presenting three superhero teams that work together to support life on land: Team Mineral, Team Critter, and Team Compost. Characters like “Wonder Worm,” “Captain Clay,” and “Number Two” appear throughout the exhibition to make complex processes, like decomposition and nutrient cycling, more tangible for young audiences.

    This cow’s breakfast initiates a complex cycle!

    (Credit: Canada Agriculture and Food Museum)>

    In addition to a straightforward structure and clever analogies, this exhibition also uses infographics to present key ideas. One graphic, for instance, shows how the organic matter in a cow’s grassy breakfast becomes food for organisms in the soil (decomposition), helps to build good soil structure, and in turn fertilizes the growth of more grass (nutrient cycling). Poop is funny, and this exhibition leans in to the humour to hook its youngest visitors—and adults too! Storytelling techniques, in turn, engage visitors in the deeper story, while immersive videos and living dioramas provide further means for visitors to see otherwise hidden aspects of this surprising topic. 

    The Technology in our Lives exhibition, which debuted when the Canada Science and Technology reopened in 2017, presents a different type of hidden topic: how society and technology influence each other. By examining technologies within their social context—rather than focusing on how they work—the exhibition explores deeper meanings behind our daily interactions with technology. A wall of refrigerators, from the 1930s to present, invites visitors to consider and discuss how they have changed over time. Why are they getting larger? Why are the colours and materials changing? Advertisements and trade literature presented throughout the exhibition invite visitors to explore how gender impacts our understanding—yesterday and today—of domestic duties and their related technologies in our lives. A surprisingly simple yet rich example is a grouping of two recent near-identical Easy-bake Ovens—one is pink, while the other is black. This invites many questions about how gender roles impact children’s play and development. Similarly, cartoon images of families in one section of the exhibition reflect the current makeup of Canadian households—challenging many visitors’ unconscious biases about what constitutes a family. In this way, while the technologies on display are not inherently intangible, their underlying social impact on Canadian families—and vice versa—could go unseen if not strategically highlighted with engaging prompts throughout the exhibition.

    Certainly, these are only a few of the many tools that we can all use to make intangible ideas more immediate for our visitors. Hopefully this article can help to continue the conversation about the many ways that we can support visitors as they explore “hidden” content through our exhibitions. 

    Nadine Dagenais-Dessaint, Carolyn Holland, and Erin Poulton are interpretive planners with Ingenium: Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation. They have each been working in the museum field for over twenty years, with experience creating a wide range educational programs, resources, and exhibitions.

  • 13 Feb 2022 9:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Glen Hvenegaard, University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, Science Department, Camrose, AB

    “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice.

    “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

    “I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

    “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

    From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

    What are your goals for your personal interpretation programs? Do you want your attendees to share a laugh, learn something new, or change their behaviour? Different goals will require somewhat different techniques. If you haven’t chosen a target goal, how will you know if you are successful? 

    Research into the outcomes and effectiveness of interpretation can help anyone involved in interpretation to design, plan, and evaluate interpretive programs. Using Alberta Parks as a case study, over the past five years our research team at the University of Alberta examined the short- and long-term outcomes for participants in interpretive programs, if those outcomes were consistent with staff priorities and park policy documents, and which factors influenced the outcomes.

    There are many potential goals for visitors who attend personal interpretation programs, and there are many ways to categorize them. After looking over past studies and interviews with park staff, we used six potential goals for interpretation: satisfaction, learning, attitude change, behaviour change, connections to place, and positive memories.

    First, what are the visitor outcomes for your interpretation programs? Based on responses from 1672 campers at 11 parks, we found that program attendees rated their entire camping experience slightly higher for satisfaction, much higher for learning, and moderately higher for attitude change and behaviour change (e.g., feeding animals, picking up litter, and attending programs again) than non-attendees. There were no differences between groups for connections to place and positive memories. After a year had passed, attendees rated satisfaction, learning, and positive memories higher than non-attendees, but attitude change, behaviour change, and connections to place were not different. 

    Second, how do visitor outcomes from interpretation compare to priorities of park staff and policy documents? Based on 86 interviews, staff with Alberta Parks rated positive memories, satisfaction, and connections to place as more important than the outcomes of behaviour change, attitude change, and learning. We found some differences in priorities by staff category, but there was consistency in most outcome priorities among staff categories. This is important because an alignment of goals among employees in an organization leads to greater performance overall.

    hese outcome priorities of park staff were slightly different from the priorities for interpretation listed in park legislation, policies, and management plans. The legislation and policies for Alberta parks encouraged visitors to learn about, appreciate, and care for the natural and cultural heritage. In turn, the management plans focused primarily on learning, and secondarily on satisfaction, attitude change, and behaviour change. There is little mention of positive memories or connections to place. This difference in priorities between planning documents and parks staff, especially for the outcomes of positive memories and connections to place, indicate some goal misalignment, and the potential for lower agency performance.

    Third, which factors influenced the outcomes for attendees of interpretation programs? We evaluated 135 programs, interviewed interpreters, and surveyed program attendees. We then tested for associations between interpretive outcomes rated by attendees and two sets of characteristics: interpreter characteristics (e.g., priorities, excitement) and program characteristics (e.g., audience size, program length). When interpreters prioritized learning, there was an associated increase in perceived learning by attendees (but this correlation was not evident for the other outcomes and matching priorities). The interpreters’ excitement levels were positively correlated with attendee intentions to visit other parks. Program organization and connections made within the program were positively correlated with increased knowledge gain. Program connections were also positively correlated with satisfaction and intentions to visit the same park. Audience size was positively correlated with satisfaction, visiting the same park, and attending another interpretive program. Longer programs were negatively correlated with the outcomes of positive memories and intentions to visit different parks. We are conducting more analyses in this area.

    Which types of programs were rated higher on these potential outcomes? For satisfaction, outdoor theatres rated higher than family programs or bus tours. For learning, outdoor theatres and guided walks rated higher than family programs. For intentions to attend another program, outdoor theatres and family programs rated higher than bus tours. For intentions to visit the same park outdoor theatres and family programs rated higher than guided walks and bus tours. For other goals, there were no significant associations. 

    How can interpreters and park agencies use these results? We learned which outcomes resulted from interpretive programs and how those outcomes changed over time. The ‘low hanging fruits’ of interpretation are satisfaction and learning, but long-term conservation is driven by behaviour change, which is harder to achieve. Second, the priorities for interpretation outcomes were consistent among staff, but staff priorities were somewhat different from priorities in park planning documents. Ensuring those goals are consistent can promote better performance. Last, several program and interpreter characteristics are associated with various interpretation outcomes. There are no cookie-cutter approaches, but don't be like Alice. Choose a target outcome and employ suitable interpretive programs and approaches to achieve that outcome. 

    In conclusion, using research results can help you improve your interpretive jobs. Research can assist your hiring practices, program planning processes, training, and marketing. Surprisingly, a separate result in our studies found that interpreters ranked research (along with legislation, plans, and policies) low among the resources that help them make decisions about the content and strategies for their interpretation programs. Instead, interpreters ranked their supervisors, past experiences, fellow interpreters much higher. These results are similar to another recent study on declining use of evidence-based decision-making among park managers. On the one hand, even though these peer-based sources are anecdotal, they allow for 2-way feedback, address local context, and are current. On the other hand, even though research-based evidence has limitations (time, cost, capacity, local applications), it reduces bias, increases accountability, and provides statistically tested and comparable information. A healthy mixture of both types of sources can guide effective planning and improve your interpretive programs.


    Glen Hvenegaard is a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose. His conducts research on interpretation, parks, birds, and ecotourism. He is a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas and is co-editor of Tourism and Visitor Management in Protected Areas: Guidelines for Sustainability.; and

  • 11 Aug 2021 9:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Lauren McAusland

    The mass closures of schools, libraries and other public institutions in March 2020 prompted parents, teachers, students, and community members to search for resources to support their learning from home. Across the country, museums, art galleries, parks, zoos and historic sites jumped into action, creating innovative ways to connect with our audiences digitally and support distanced learning.

    At Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), we created a new virtual learning platform called RBG at Home. This platform sought to provide educational resources in four primary forms—blog posts articles, pre-recorded videos, activity worksheets, and live virtual learning sessions—to three audiences: teachers, caregivers, and life-long learners.

    Before the pandemic, creating a virtual learning platform would have been a project that took months of development. However, given the urgency of the situation and a strong desire to support our audiences through the challenging transition into a provincial lockdown, our amazing team had the program up and running in a matter of weeks. In the early days of the program, our education department quickly published a lot of content that we felt would resonate with our understanding of what our audience would like. On the surface level, our offerings received a positive response, so over the next few months both in and out of the lockdowns, our education team continued producing content that we felt our audience would like. As we approached the one-year mark we began to ask ourselves some questions; Is this program doing what we want it to? Is it reaching who we want it to? What could we do to make this program even more successful? Is it worth continuing to run this program once on-site learning resumes?

    Standing at this crossroad of ‘do we continue this program, and if we do, how can we make it better,’ we knew the time had come to do an evaluation. Evaluations give you a detailed understanding of how your program is operating in the real world so that you can make decisions on what you want to modify to improve the programs ability reach and engage your audience and meet program and institutional objectives. However, evaluations can be very daunting tasks. Having a staff member dedicated to evaluation is a luxury most institutions don’t have, leaving program coordinators and educators struggling to fit evaluation into their already busy schedules.

    The good news: you don’t need to be a professionally trained evaluator in order to collect good data to support programming decisions! If you are thinking about doing an evaluation, but don’t know where to start, the most important thing you can do is sit down and think about your evaluation’s objectives and big picture questions before you start drafting a survey or begin any data collection. Understanding what you want to learn will help make sure you ask your participants the right ‘little’ questions to get good data to help you answer your ‘big’ questions

    For example, one of our evaluation questions was ‘to what extent has there been engagement with French content on RBG at Home?’ By asking this, we wanted to learn if people had been using the French content to help us figure out if this is something we should make more or less of. To answer this question, we collected engagement metrics (likes, shares, views, etc.) of French content and we also asked participants to identify in a survey if they engage with content in French and/or English.

    In total we identified eight of those ‘big’ questions we wanted our evaluation to answer. Perhaps the biggest one was: Are people interested in continuing to use virtual learning programs when on-site learning resumes? Our survey found that yes, 70% of our respondents indicated that they were very likely or likely to continue to use RBG at Home. Additionally, we found that our two audiences, ‘adults’ and ‘caregivers,’ indicated equal interest in continued engagement.

    Every virtual learning program operates slightly differently, so the results of the RBG at Home evaluation might not apply to every similar site. For all institutions who have also put out online educational content and are contemplating if this is a strategy they should be continuing with, the time has come to examine our programs with a critical eye and assess how we can modify them to produce content that continued to engage virtual audiences during a return on to site programming.

    Lauren McAusland is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s Masters of Museum Studies program and led the RBG at Home evaluation in her position as Interpretation Intern at Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, ON.

  • 15 Apr 2021 12:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jacquie Gilson, Doctor of Social Sciences

    Yorke Edwards has always been an inspiration to me. I recall excitedly reading his book The Land Speaks: Organizing and running an interpretation system when it came out in 1979. That is the year I started studying interpretation at university and his thin, but jam-packed book, was introduced to us. I devoured this “required” reading and felt an immediate connection with Yorke as I read it. I too was a nature-loving urbanite from Toronto who wanted to break the bonds of the city and work in the natural world. Like Yorke, I went on to spend my entire career working in the interpretation profession within various parks systems. Yorke was a leader in the new field of interpretation in Canada. He laid the groundwork for us to follow, and when I proudly refer to interpretation as a “profession,” I now realize that I have Yorke to thank.

    The Object’s the Thing is a collection of his writings from throughout his long career. I am grateful to those who saved these writings and chose to make them available to all. I love the title, as it hints at deeper ideas, and I waited patiently until the section in which the meaning was revealed (it’s on page 264, if you can’t wait.). I did the math and discovered that The Land Speaks and The Object’s the Thing (the original piece of writing under that name) were written around the same time, when he was 55 and at the peak of his career. Both spoke to me because they encourage taking a deeper look at our profession. It was worth the wait and that particular piece gave me much food for thought.

    The book is chronologically divided into three sections, based on his places of employment over the 25 years from 1962-1987. I enjoyed reading his writings in this order and I pictured him gaining confidence and becoming more and more enthused about the idea of interpretation as the years went by

    As a child, Yorke spent as much time as possible exploring nature in the outdoors and at the Royal Ontario Museum’s collections in Toronto. This led him to a lifelong belief that for people to connect to nature they needed to experience the real thing. His love of nature shines through in his writings, as does his concern that modern people are disconnected from it.

    As a young adult, he moved to BC to study and then to work for the Parks Branch. His writings in this first section reflect his youth and enthusiasm for parks and this new idea of interpretation. I enjoyed reading his brief annual reports to management, in which he highlighted the growth of the programs and the increasing visitor interest in the nature houses. I loved his reference to “spot talks” as informal interpretation provided where and when people were available. The terms used to describe these interpretive moments have changed over the years, and we have called them point duty, point stations, pop ups, and my favourite, activity stations.

    Yorke then moved to Ottawa to work for the Canadian Wildlife Service, planning a series of nature centres to be developed across the country and aimed at helping Canadians understand conservation. His writings in this section remained positive and hopeful and you can see that he is formulating his ideas for what makes interpretation successful. He seems to struggle with the idea of developing centres, since they take people indoors, when, in his opinion, they need to be in the outdoors, i.e., in the real thing. Reading this section was difficult for me, knowing that the conservation program and centres soon received major cutbacks, something he was blissfully unaware of in his writings.

    His career aspirations then took him back to BC, where he worked at the BC Provincial Museum as assistant director and director until his retirement in 1984. The writings in this section to me seemed to show his maturity, but also his frustrations with financial restraint and bureaucracy. Regardless of his role throughout his career, he always advocated for “inspirational public programming” as a way to connect visitors to the parks and the natural world (p. 14).

    The introductory sections written by Richard Kool, Robert A. Cannings and Bob Peart helped me to put Yorke’s writing into context. It was very useful to know how his work fit into his career and the times he was in. After I finished each of Yorke’s pieces of writing, I found myself wishing that my contemporaries would weigh in and share their thoughts on the relevance of that writing for us today. I especially wanted this kind of a summary from the editors after I completed my reading of the final piece of Yorke’s writing. I guess that task falls to me as a reader; I need to make the content relevant to my work. I did go back and reread the editor’s sections after completing the book and this gave me the closure I was desiring. I suggest that you do the same; read it from front to back and then read the writings of the editors. I realize that this does not give Yorke the final say, but I think it helps to put all his writings in perspective.

    Interestingly, Yorke addressed issues that we still grapple with in interpretation today. He wondered about the term “interpretation,” describing it as a dull and colourless name; something that many in the field still question. The definition he published in 1977 still guides us, and yet is cause for ongoing debate. At that time, he said, “Interpretation is attractive communication, offering concise information, given in the presence of the topic, and its goal is the revelation of significance” (p. 28.)  We still haven’t come up with a better one that is more relevant to our times. Also, he was adamant that the real object needed to be present for good interpretation. This notion is now questioned and the debate continues, as we wrestle with the role of technology, exhibits, and even visitor centres, as sources of inspiration. He addressed the role of information a number of times and I sometimes found myself in disagreement with his views. At the time he was writing, sources of information were limited and the interpreter was seen as the purveyor of knowledge. I think we now have the opposite problem, with TMI (too much information) dominating our world. For today and the future, I think an interpreter’s role is to help dispel misinformation, but also to engage people in honest dialogue about topics of relevance. Information clearly has a role to play, but perhaps not as strong a place as he believed.

    As someone who completed her doctoral dissertation on the concept of inspiration in interpretation, I was overjoyed to see his use of the idea of inspiration throughout his writings. At one point, he said, very simply, that interpretation “shows, orients, informs, inspires and entertains” (p. 30). Inspiration was the one of these five words that he used the most in his writings. I wholeheartedly agree with his assertation that an interpreter is an “Enthusiastic purveyor of inspiration” (p. 30) and that interpretation should inspire people to take action. I am thankful to him for his original writings, in which he was not afraid to wax poetic about such lofty subjects as inspiration. I know his work inspired me to explore inspiration. 

    I am pleased that I now have two books by Yorke Edwards on my bookshelf. I trust that my copy of The Object’s the Thing will be just as well loved and marked up as my copy of The Land Speaks. They both already have many tabs marking special sections and my favourite quotes. If you don’t already have it, you can access the full text of The Land Speaks here: and then you too can have both his books standing proudly next to each other in your collection.

    Yorke wrote with so much enthusiasm for the nascent profession of interpretation that you cannot help but be inspired. However, he wrote during simpler times. As we face today’s challenges, we need to keep his writings in mind and let his passion inspire us. Modern interpretive professionals need to figure out how we will navigate this new world. I believe, as Yorke did, that the profession of interpretation has something to contribute towards making the world a better place. Let’s use Yorke’s enthusiasm as inspiration to keep interpretation alive and well, because, in his words, “… interpreters never can know how far the ripples travel from where they have dropped new understandings” (p. 293).

    Book Review of The Object’s the Thing: The writings of Yorke Edwards a pioneer of heritage interpretation in Canada, edited by R. Kool and RA Cannings, published by Royal BC Museum, 2021.

    Jacquie has been involved in interpretation, and loving it, for more than 40 years. After studying the concept of inspiration in interpretation, she received her Doctor of Social Sciences degree from Royal Roads University in 2015. Jacquie recently retired from being an Interpretation Coordinator for Parks Canada in Banff National Park and she now runs her own company, InterpActive. She focuses on interpreter training and her specialty is online training on dialogic and participatory interpretation. Check out her current offer here Look for her book Inspired to Inspire: Holistic Inspirational Interpretation on

  • 30 Mar 2021 11:40 PM | Anonymous member

    Book review by Interpretation Canada

    Inspired to Inspire - Holistic Inspirational Inspiration by Dr. Jacquie Gilson offers a fresh approach to interpretation. It’s contemporary, filled with practical information, and it’s Canadian. This book should find a space in your everyday practice. The Interpretation Canada review team gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

    Brief summary of the book

    Inspired to Inspire is a practical guide that explores more holistic ways to approach interpretation. It provides an overview of where the field of interpretation has been and the direction that it is moving towards in a way that is accessible and enjoyable to read. It is full of examples from the field and grounded in research that provide news ways of thinking about engagement and inspiration.

    As interpreters, we aim to inspire others. Dr. Gilson provides a framework in which to do that more effectively.

    Inspired to Inspire belongs on every interpreter's bookshelf.

    Evaluation of the book

    The IC review team read the book and then met as a group to discuss their thoughts and impressions of the book and its content. After comparing and compiling notes, the team then wrote a review summarizing their discussions and overall thoughts on Inspired to Inspire. Here is their review:

    It isn’t often that you see an interpretive text actually using interpretive theory in the way it is presented, but Dr. Gilson’s book does exactly that. One of our reviewers mentioned “The way the book is written hits all the letters of the POETRY model, so much of Dr. Gilson’s voice comes through”.

    Inspired to Inspire is written in a purposeful and thematic manner, is organized so that you can read it cover to cover or skip to a relevant section, is written in a voice that is accessible and enjoyable, and speaks to the changes happening in the field today. One cannot ignore Dr. Gilson’s passion for the subject; it shines through from the very first page to the last one. Throughout the book, Dr. Gilson asks questions that help you to create the connections between the ideas being presented and your own interpretive practice. As the reader, you are encouraged to write down your answers within the book, thus making each copy unique.

    One of the strengths of this book is that it encourages us to change the language we use to describe interpretation, such as in Dr. Gilson’s discussion of provocation vs. inspiration. One of our reviewers mentioned “I would never advertise a program by promising ‘provocation’ to the audience, but I promise inspiration in my program descriptions all the time.” The shift from provocation to inspiration when describing what we do instantly makes interpretation more appealing and understandable to managers, visitors... and anyone who hasn’t read Tilden. Ideas like this may seem subtle, but are incredibly beneficial to our profession as we strive to become less insular and more relevant to the agencies that employ us, and this book is full of such ideas.

    The book is written in an engaging and approachable voice and clearly explains the theoretical foundations of the work. It does assume the reader has some experience in interpretation, but is still accessible to someone new to the field. The Interpretation Canada review team noted that this book may be especially useful for visitor experience professionals outside of interpretation who wish to understand our profession better, as it takes the time to explain the psychological theory behind inspiration and how it connects to interpretation.

    Review team members took different approaches to reading the book. Some read from cover to cover, while others jumped in between chapters. The team appreciated that the book offered this flexibility and that it could be used as a reference as well as a more all-encompassing text. When reading the book yourself, find the method that works best for you.

    Inspired to Inspire is full of ideas grounded in research and practice. It is filled with examples from the field and ideas that you can put into practice right away. It is moving the field forward by challenging and inspiring us to re-think how effective our interpretation can be and the approaches that we use.

    This is a book that everyone should have in their interpretive library. We hope it inspires you as much as it has inspired us.

    This book review was written collaboratively by Interpretation Canada board members Pam Murray (Chair), Jennifer Dick (Secretary), Sarah Rauh (Awards Chair), Nicole Cann, Sylvie Binette, and David Lloyd. On behalf of Interpretation Canada, we highly recommend this book as a resource for everyone working in heritage interpretation and visitor experience.

  • 15 Mar 2021 5:46 PM | Anonymous member

    By Pam Murray

    It was early in my career as an interpreter. I was working for a contractor in BC Parks, doing many, many school programs, mostly on beaches. One of the most popular programs involved hauling a beach seine net through an eelgrass bed with the class, so that they could see the incredible diversity of creatures that lived there, and hopefully gain an appreciation for a habitat that they otherwise could not see.

    I got in trouble one day when a particularly cynical group of 5th graders arrived. I introduced the group to eelgrass and showed them the net, then enthusiastically set off down to the beach as I envisioned the mind-blowing formative experience that was about to take place. All of the kids were about to become champions of sensitive intertidal fish habitats!

    An eelgrass bed

    Then, a kid asked "Are we going to catch anything?" and I stupidly replied with:

    “If there's not at least one fish in this net for everyone here, I'll buy you all ice cream!"

    I quickly led the group in setting the net and organized them into two teams to pull the ropes to bring the net in. When the net arrived on shore, I talked about how to safely pick up the creatures and place them in Ziplock bags of water to bring them to our observation pool, then led the class to the net to check out the hundreds of fish we had doubtlessly caught.

    I began to feel nervous as I realized there was not much moving around in the net. I soon discovered that I had made a huge mistake, and forgotten to check the net thoroughly. There was a twist in the middle of the net, resulting in a big space at the bottom, large enough for all of the fish to escape through. Horrified, I began desperately searching for any creatures I could find in the net. I found three or four fish and a number of shore crabs. When the net was empty, which didn’t take very long, we gathered at the observation pool.

    The group was completely engaged.. … in counting how many fish we had, as well as reminding me that shore crabs were not fish. It was glaringly obvious that there had NOT been a fish in the net for everyone.

    It was the last program of the day, and so I ended up on the same ferry home as the kids, and spent the entire ride awkwardly avoiding questions about what flavour of ice cream I was going to buy them, while doing math in my head to determine just how much this mistake was going to cost me.

    When we got off the ferry, the teacher tried to let me off the hook by announcing that they would be late getting back to school if we went for ice cream. I, however, felt that if I had totally failed to teach the class anything about eelgrass, I could at least show them an example of coming through on one’s promises. I pulled $20 out of my wallet and asked the teacher to use it to buy a bucket of ice cream and some cones, then drove back to the nature house that served as our office, completely embarrassed, where I said nothing to anyone.

    A few weeks later, a package of thank you letters arrived. My coworkers were all very curious about why this particular class was thanking me for the ice cream.

    This experience taught me to always double-check my equipment, and make sure the net was free of twists and tangles. The bigger lesson for me, however, was that it is important to set reasonable expectations for your group, and not let your ego get in the way of your participants’ experience. If I could go back in time, I would not have made any promises about what we were going to catch, and I suspect that without the distraction of ice cream, my group would have been pretty excited about catching shore crabs.

    • Always double-check your equipment before your programs.
    • Don’t promise the moon (or ice-cream for that matter). Keep expectations reasonable.
    • Remember that what seems ordinary to you (like a shore crab) may be extraordinary to your group – especially if you show them why that is so! 

    Pam Murray is the Chairperson of Interpretation Canada and one of the editors of The Interpreters Big Book of Disasters.  She manages and delivers school programs at Milner Gardens & Woodland and has never again even mentioned ice cream to a school group. 

  • 17 Jan 2021 5:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Frankie Marquez

    One way many interpreters are looking to engage with the public during times of COVID-19 is through virtual programming! The public might not be able to feel your props but they can see and hear more than ever through the magic of online learning! The CBC FU Public Outreach and Education Team wants to show you how to set up your own studio to deliver exciting and engaging virtual programs. 

    The bare minimum that you need to deliver virtual programming is a laptop with a webcam and a stable internet source. In the Vancouver office we use a magic internet box with an air card - we honestly don’t really know how it works but it basically creates its own Wi-Fi by using cell-tower data. With these two tools you should be able to use platforms such as Zoom, FacebookLive, YouTube, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams. 

    If you want to take your program to the next level the first thing you should do is find a friend to be your designated tech support. Once you find your friend, you can take your tech to the next level.

    The first piece of tech that will bring the “WOW” factor to your programs is a green screen because it allows you to manipulate backgrounds on Zoom and other platforms. You’ll be able to host game shows or take your audience to different sites in a matter of seconds! To ensure the best results, clamp your green screen fabric to the poles and make sure it’s nice and tight! 

    The other pieces of tech needed would be an external webcam (instead of the one that came with your laptop), a second monitor, and a set of external speakers. We use the Logitech C920 webcam and have it propped on top of our second monitor that faces the presenters. Not only does this improve your video quality, but the second monitor also allows for the presenters to point at the right places on the green screen and respond to participant comments in real time. 

    Also, if you are planning on using sound for your program such as a bird call, having a set of external speakers will ensure that the sound quality is crisp and clear for audience members. 

    Finally, to glow bright like the star that you are, use a ring light to bring out your best features for the camera! 

    Even though we need to keep physical distance from our visitors, that does not mean we have to compromise program quality. Virtual programming is new and exciting with so much potential! What will you deliver? 

    Frankie is a passionate educator who works for Parks Canada’s Learn-To Camp Team and connects various audiences to the outdoors. Her favorite part of the job is teaching newcomers to Canada how to camp safely and dressing up as Parka Parks Canada’s Beaver mascot.

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