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. 

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  • 4 Mar 2020 11:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Wendy Niven

    If you are looking to up your theme writing game, Jon Kohl’sInterpretive Theme Writer’s Field Guide is a must-have. Written to complement and build upon another essential ingredient in the heritage interpreter's toolkit - Sam Ham’s Interpretation: Making a Difference on Purpose - the Interpretive Theme Writer’s Field Guide is dedicated to the art and craft of writing great interpretive themes. 

    This isn't a book that one reads once cover to cover. There's too much in it to absorb in one read-through. I remember learning the basics of exhibit design from Jim Todgham, from whom I took over maintaining the exhibits at Jasper National Park's Icefield Centre. He taught me that interpretive exhibits need to appeal to three different types of visitors - Streakers, Strollers, and Studiers. In order to really get all the meat that's in this book, I think I one needs to do all three. 

    This is also not a book that one reads and files away. The intent is for your edition to become dog-eared as you bring it into the field with you - the place where inspiration and creativity are most likely to strike. It is a great tool!

    So, who is Jon Kohl? Based in the US and Costa Rica, Jon was introduced to environmental interpretation while working at the Costa Rican Simon Bolivar National Zoo and Botanical Gardens. A writer from an early age, Jon has been developing his interpretation skills since the early 1990s. In the book Jon maintains there are plenty of resources for an interpreter to learn the theory of thematic interpretation, but nothing that helps one hone their skill at what is arguably the most important aspect of the craft - writing a great theme.

    The Interpretive Theme Writer’s Field Guide is set up as a series of stations that take the reader through 7 distinct stages in order to dissect the theme writing process and connect it to the larger objective of interpretive program development. 

    It begins by setting a solid stage of what interpretation is - and what it isn’t. From this base, the field guide takes you through audience types (primary and secondary), big ideas (the precursor to your theme), the vehicles for your big ideas (your themes), igniting inspiration, and how to present your ideas to your audience in a provocative, meaningful way. 

    Wrapping up with how to create a theme-writing team (it takes a village to write a theme!), and how your theme fits into the bigger-picture interpretive framework, the field guide is full of quotes, examples, exercises, tips, tricks, and worksheets to help you understand, practice and dig deeper into how to create a really strong theme based on Sam Ham’s “fundamental criteria of provocation and power”.

    The knowledge, skill and insight contained within the pages of the Interpretive Theme Writer’s Field Guide is deep. For me, as a budding interpreter, this is a book that I plan on returning to often. I have already broken family rules (sorry mom and dad!) by folding over page corners to mark the spots that inspire or intrigue me. I hope my copy is well bound, because I think it is going to take a little abuse as I dig into it to develop my skills in creating compelling interpretive themes and programs.

    Wendy Niven lives and works as an interpretive guide in Jasper, Alberta. She is also an interpretation instructor for the Interpretive Guides Association and is always looking to improve her thematic interpretation skills. As you can see from the image, Wendy has already started to smash up her copy of Jon's Interpretive Theme Writers Field Guide.

  • 15 Feb 2020 11:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Sarah Rauh, Parks Canada, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

    When thinking of Dialogic Interpretation, we often think of the personal interpretation opportunities that it provides. However, dialogue is just as important “behind the scenes” and in non-personal interpretation. Over the last number of years, I have worked on a variety of projects with outside organizations to tell their stories. We had to work collaboratively and use dialogue to create meaningful stories and valuable visitor experience opportunities. But, how do we work collaboratively with these organizations who often have no background or understanding of interpretation?

    By incorporating dialogue, we can work effectively with these organizations to create an outstanding visitor experience. In this session, I shared some of the methods that I use as well as gathered suggestions from session participants. This is the resulting Collaborative Guide to Success that we created… collaboratively!

    Things to keep in mind

    Challenge your natural role:

    • Some individuals will naturally fall into leadership roles; others will naturally feel more comfortable letting someone else take the lead. Remember to be open to this and step into the role that is needed by the group!
    • Be aware of what your natural role is in case it causes any misunderstanding of who is leading the project.

    Some stakeholders don’t want to be involved in the entire process.

    One of the key things that comes up in discussions is choosing stories. With some groups, you may need to act as facilitator or the “Interpretive specialist”, providing advice and recommendations on which stories to choose. With other groups, you can work with them to choose the stories. As you work with these groups, be flexible and step into the role that is needed.

    Snacks are key!

    Steps of Collaboration

    When working with a group you can use the following steps to help work through the process:

    • Goal setting – what is the purpose? What is the final result?
    • Determine roles – Who is responsible for what?
    • The Plan – how will you get there?
    • Negotiation – figuring out the “nitty-gritty”
    • Collaboration – creating the final product

    Another strategy that you can incorporate is: RACI

    1. Responsible (Who is responsible for the project?)

    2. Accountable (Who are we accountable to?)

    3. Consulted (Who needs to be consulted?)

    4. Informed (Who needs to be informed about the project?)

    Tools of Facilitation for Interpretive Panels

    Here are some of the tools and strategies you can use when facilitating conversations around interpretive panels:


    Take the topics related to the project and write them down on chart paper spread out around the room. The group then walks around the room and adds stories or information related to each subject. This allows us to see the breadth of stories that the group believes is important or were linked. Then in phase two, the group goes around again and votes for their favourite points in each grouping. Once this is complete, you can discuss and narrow down the stories from there into panels and themes.

    Physical mapping of ideas:

    For a series of panels, take a map of the place and place the panels in locations on the map to visually see where they would be laid out. This allows a chance to determine if spots are too crowded, where stories can be told best, issues with locations, etc. This is also a useful step to use after the mind-mapping exercise.

    Matrix matching:

    For groups that have multiple organizations involved, use this tool to make sure that the objectives or themes of each group are covered.

    Put all the panel themes/subjects along the side bar and have each organizations objectives or must haves along the top. Then, go through each panel and see which ones match each objective. Then, determine if there are any gaps in the themes or objectives.

    Group Development

    When working with groups, there are some theories and information that can help you as the facilitator to keep the group moving and manage conflict. If you are looking for ways to assist a group, look into some of the following group development theories:

    - Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development

    - Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument

    - The “Iceberg” of Conflict (Cloke and Goldsmith, 2000)

    Dialogue is a key part of ensuring success in interpretation – both personal and non-personal. When we work with others, our collaboration can create meaningful connections, stronger bonds, and amazing interpretive products!

    Sarah Rauh is the Interpretation Officer/Coordinator III at Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (Parks Canada). Sarah has worked in the interpretation field for 4 years within Ontario Parks and Parks Canada. She graduated from Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Outdoor Recreation and a Bachelor of Education.

  • 15 Jan 2020 1:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By J'net Ayayqwayaksheelth, B.A., M.A. (One who gives away and still stands tall)

    As the Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), I get a variety of tasks to address grassroots interests in the museum. In 2016, we were faced with a unique conversation starter prompted by online Twitter comments. Stan Wesley, a Cree Indigenous educator tweeted comments to invite the ROM to address an inaccurateChristopher Columbus Discovers America statement. This statement appears in the center of a slice of an old-growth Douglas Fir tree we have on loan from the University of Toronto that is featured in our Hands On Gallery across from the popular Bat Cave. We discussed this with our Indigenous Advisory Circle (IAC) and we agreed that we could not change the intellectual property of the original artist interpretation.

    Tree cookie on display at Royal Ontario Museum - an IC blog

    Photo courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum

    Our IAC members did assert that we have a responsibility as a museum learning department to accurately interpret this outdated statement that reflected the beliefs for the 1920 era the specimen was made into an artifact. There is not much many of us can do with the pace of change within the museum sector. In time, by 2018, we were able to budget for a video project to interview Nuu-chah-nulth nation members from Tseshaht First Nation about the cultural significance of this old-growth tree. This was possible because practicum students from Fleming College Environment Visual Communications program work directly in partnership with the ROM.

    This was a significant continental collaboration. We hosted a formal reveal in the fall 2019 with Stan Wesley and his family invited to bear witness to the fruits of his grassroots efforts to speak the truth within our public institutions. While the wait was long, this act of reconciliation will live on with authentic voices included in real-time interpretation of living Indigenous cultures. 

    Close of view mentioning historical events marked on tree rings - an IC blog

    Photo courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum

    Here is the link for the Tree Cookie story covered by my small hometown Indigenous newspaper called the Ha-shilth-sa:

    J'net AyAyQwaYakSheelth (One who gives away and still stands tall) is the Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum. As part of the Learning Department, J'net leads the development and implementation of relevant Indigenous content and perspectives in School Visits and community outreach programs. This work is designed to advance awareness, understanding, and appreciation for Indigenous cultures and heritage in both historical and contemporary contexts. J’net also developed an Indigenous Advisory Circle of knowledge carriers, elders, youth, and artists to assist the ROM with the authentic representation of Indigenous peoples in educational programming, youth programs, and outreach.

  • 15 Nov 2019 12:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Grace Hunter, Royal Botanical Gardens and Freelance Science Writer

    Being prepared before heading into the field seems like a no-brainer for nature interpreters. From packing water bottles to knowing how to read a map, having the right gear and knowledge reduces the risk of injury in the outdoors. When leading a group on an interpretive program, nature interpreters bear the added responsibility of communicating risks about the outdoors to an audience. One of the more challenging conversations an interpreter can have with program participants involves discussing ticks and Lyme disease. How can you communicate safe practices surrounding ticks, while still fostering a love for the outdoors?

    Walking in a forest with a risk of ticks - an IC blog

    Photo Credit © Heiko Barth/Adobe Stock

    Interpreters seeking to tackle this question should first embrace Sun Tzu’s teachings and ‘know thine enemy’. The topic of ticks is rife with myths: from the notion that ticks should be removed with a lit match, to the idea that they attack by dropping from above onto unsuspecting victims. There are also many different tick species, each with their own environmental needs and associated risks. Don’t miss out on delivering crucial information to your audience by talking about the wrong tick, in the wrong environment, at the wrong time of year.

    “There’s so much misinformation about ticks and about Lyme disease,” says Dr. Katie Clow, Assistant Professor in the Department of of Population Medicine with the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. “It’s really good to get out there and provide people with evidence-based information.”

    Two types of ticks can spread Lyme disease in Canada: the blacklegged tick and the western blacklegged tick. Dr. Clow says the hotspots for blacklegged ticks in Ontario are along the north shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, in eastern Ontario down into the Ottawa valley, in the Rouge Valley and Hamilton and Niagara area, around Pinery Provincial Park near Grand Bend, and around the town of Penetanguishene. Not every blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease; however, the Government of Ontario’s online primer for Lyme disease notes, “while the probability is low, it is possible to find an infected tick almost anywhere in Ontario.” And thanks to climate change, the blacklegged tick’s range is expanding. Interpreters that lead programs in forest habitats need to be aware that the blacklegged tick is a forest dweller. The blacklegged tick “has high requirements for humid environments, so it spends most of its time in the leaf litter of the forest, and only really comes out when it’s questing,” says Dr. Clow. Questing ticks crawl to the tip of leaves, stems, and branches and wait for a host to pass by. “If we’re thinking meadows, blacklegged ticks aren’t going to survive out there for very long because it’s far too dry.” While it’s possible for a blacklegged tick to find their way into a grassy field, “they’re not thriving in those areas,” says Dr. Clow.

    Understanding tick biology can also help interpreters provide accurate information to an audience about tick risk management. Ticks need to feed during three of their life stages: the larval, nymph, and adult stages. Dr. Clow says larvae stay close to the ground and target small mammals and ground-dwelling birds. Ticks pick up Lyme disease by feeding on infected wildlife, so “if we’re thinking about Lyme disease, that stage doesn’t yet carry it because they haven’t had the chance to pick it up from a wildlife host,” says Dr Clow.

    The nymph stage quests a bit higher and is active in early summer. “This is what a lot of medical professionals say is the highest risk time,” says Dr. Clow, because nymphs are about the size of a sesame seed and can be challenging to spot. “In the spring, and particularly in the fall, that’s the heyday for adult ticks,” says Dr. Clow. Adult ticks are hungry, reproducing, and preparing for winter. They can crawl onto shrubs and bushes to find food, but Dr. Clow clarifies that they aren’t going to be scaling 5-foot tall trees and dropping down from above. “They don’t have overly high mobility.”

    “The main thing I try to convey is that if we’re worried about the blacklegged tick, where we’re going to encounter them is out in the woods and on brushy things where they’re waiting for you. They’re not going to come and get you,” says Dr. Clow. So interpreters should encourage their groups to stay on marked, well-groomed trails, and cover up in long pants and long shirts. Dr. Clow says the most important method to protect from ticks after being outdoors is to do a thorough tick check. Make sure “you’re looking around the hairline, the armpit, the warm moist places of your body that ticks like to hide.” Interpreters should instruct program participants to perform a tick check after being outside. They can also suggest that parents help children with a tick check when the kids are taking their nightly bath and putting on pyjamas.

    For Dr. Ryan Howard, Director of Director of Research, Risk, and Innovation with Alive Outdoors, tick checks are one part of a larger conversation that Alive Outdoor’s instructors have with students about proper hygiene in the field. “We’ve really tried to simplify what it means to talk about ticks and check for ticks,” says Dr. Howard. Alive Outdoors works with several thousand youths in a season, but conversations about ticks happen between instructors and small groups of students to maintain a personal connection throughout the talk. Tick talks are adjusted to fit the age of the students. Keep it simple for young students: “‘Hey we’ve just been out walking through the woods’,” suggests Dr. Howard. “’I want you all to take a moment, right now, just check your legs, check your arms. Look for anything that wasn’t there when you started. Something that’s not normal. Black dot, brown dot. Any bugs.’” says Dr. Howard. For older students, explain what ticks are and why it’s important to do a tick check.

    “We have two choices,” Dr. Howard sums up. “One, we could just not go out there. And two, we can go out there and be well-informed, and do our best to try and reduce the likelihood of students getting exposed to ticks, but also if they do, dealing with them appropriately.”

    This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Clow. “I have had parents come up to me and they’re like, ‘Why would I ever take my kids outside?’” Her response is, “Because the outside has so many good health benefits! My message is usually try to empower people so that they don’t need to be scared go outside.”


    Dr. Ryan Howard

    Director of Research, Risk, and Innovation - Alive Outdoors

    Dr. Katie Clow - Assistant Professor, Department of of Population Medicine, Ontario

    Veterinary College, University of Guelph

    Ontario Government - Lyme Disease:

    Grace grew up on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. Throughout her science communication career, she has worked across Canada and developed and delivered educational public programs and events for a number of organizations including aquariums, museums, and nature reserves. She also works as a freelance environmental science writer. She is passionate about science communication and connecting the public to stories about science and the environment. You can connect with her on Twitter: @GraceC_Hunter

  • 4 Sep 2019 1:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Karin Davidson-Taylor, Pollination Guelph

    “That’s amazing… all that way! I had no idea.” “I saw a Monarch Butterfly the other day.” “Look mummy, a caterpillar.”  These are the phrases that we love to hear when engaging people; sharing our joy of monarchs and what we can do to help them.

    There are a variety of ways that we interact with the public – some actively, some passively.  We are often asked to attend events to promote pollinators and their habitat. We always have Richter boxes with preserved specimens, especially useful with comparing or pointing out a specific feature. If possible, we will bring some living specimens (livestock) and this is when we get a lot of engagement. 

    To provide other opportunities to engage the public and various generations, I’ve produced a cart with a variety of images and maps to help people understand a year in the life of multiple generations of monarchs. They are welcome to look at these images and ask questions. I let them lead their exploration.

    A group of people around each other Description automatically generated

    For younger ones (and older if they want), there are a series of images that illustrate the life cycle of the Monarch. To engage these younger ones, I ask them to put them in order. If it’s a larger family group, I might get each person to choose a card and get them to stand in order – Total Physical Response (TPR). Exploring the life cycle this way has been very interesting, too, when interacting with non-English speakers since there are no words for them to read; a wonderful opportunity for them to participate.  

    I also have specimens of milkweed with caterpillars on them. We’ll count the caterpillars and with any luck, I’ll have a variety of sizes for people to see. It’s interesting to see the astonishment at finding a caterpillar that is smaller than the top of your little finger. We observe them eating and then discuss how they eat.  It’s fun to compare the up and down motion of our mouths with the side to side motion of caterpillar mouths (and other chewing insects). Everyone that wants to can role play being a caterpillar munching on a leaf… discover how are we the same; how are we different.

    The migration of the monarch from Eastern Canada to Mexico is pretty amazing and people are fascinated to hear about their journey, using maps to help explain it, many not realizing that it is the same butterfly that starts that journey in September and finishes in Texas in March after spending the winter in Mexico. We tag them and release them sometimes with the help of the visitors – some positive; some negative responses to having the butterflies placed on their hands or noses – with their permission of course.  I always need to be ready to take it off before a hand swipes it away.

    I love questions and one I often get is: “What can I do?”.  Again, I have either living plants or images of plants that they can plant in their garden reminding them that they need to consider all life cycle needs.  I’ll also tell them about some citizen science opportunities, such as Mission Monarch, a Canadian database of monarch and milkweed sightings. I’ll have a list of resources that they can take a picture of to find out more.

    There are times when I have to be careful, especially with little ones who want to hold or grab the caterpillars, but on the whole it’s a matter of being vigilant, both me and the parents. I’ve also had to be cognizant of my enthusiasm not to get the better of me. Information is good to share, but they don’t necessarily need to know it all. I try to encourage questions, to help me focus what I want to tell them.


    Citizen Science:

    • Mission Monarch -

    Learn, observe, report milkweed and monarchs that you see in your neighbourhood

    • David Suzuki Foundation: The Butterflyway Project -

    The Butterflyway Project is a citizen-led movement growing highways of habitat for bees and butterflies across Canada


    • Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies workshops
    • Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)

    Great 2-day workshop. First day – learn all about Monarchs, ecology, care, concerns, status… Second day (optional)– experience integrated curriculum activities that can be used with a wide variety of age groups.  For Ontario participants, you can apply for collector’s permit under TRCA umbrella licence. You will then be able to raise and tag monarchs.


    • Monarch Butterfly Teacher and Student Resources

    Great list of resources and activities for grades Pre-K through 12 and offers activities that promote conservation of the Monarch Butterfly.


    Great books to read with younger children

    • Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by Sam Swope 

    • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
    • How to Raise Monarch Butterflies by Carol Pasternak

    Karin Davidson-Taylor is a director for Pollination Guelph, which is a group of individuals dedicated to the conservation and development of pollinator habitat for current and future generations. We promote awareness and understanding of the role of pollinators in achieving local and global environmental sustainability goals and showcase pollinator projects that are a model for citizens and communities throughout Canada and internationally.

  • 12 Jun 2019 5:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Munju Ravindra

    From the very first interpretive program I did over twenty years ago (where an audience member called out “relax, we’re on vacation” as I fussed breathlessly with a burnt-out slide projector bulb), to the night walks when I lost the trail, my life-as-an-interpreter is littered with “gulp” moments. Looking back, I like them all; mostly because of what each taught me about how to be a better interpreter, and a better human being in general.

    My favourite disaster story is the time when I almost drowned my audience.

    I was four seasons into interpretation and only one season into interpreting Fundy National Park on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. The park’s specialty was daily ‘tide walks’ - taking advantage of the world’s highest (and lowest) tides to expose visitors to cool animals, such as tube worms and crustaceans. I loved doing the walks, and over the course of my first season at Fundy had become totally engrossed with the flight plan of the Semipalmated sandpiper, the mechanics of a fish weir, and showing people how to lure periwinkles out of their shells by whistling. But, I was always a little jealous of the senior interpreters I emulated. They. Knew. Everything. And, they got to do the special guided walks on the bimonthly spring tide – when the gravitational influence of moon and sun overlap, causing a particularly high (and particularly low) tide. My own programing schedule meant I was never able to attend one of these special walks, but I heard tales of magic and mystery and of creatures resplendent with colour! Groovy as I found them, the mudflat critters were resplendent in shades of, well... brown.

    Fast-forward to my second season at Fundy. My supervisor told me that since I was now a 'senior' interpreter, I was to give the spring tide walk. The route was more or less predetermined: I would lead visitors out to a normally underwater reef on a falling tide, look at all the cool stuff, and head back before the tide started to rise again. Having never actually attended this special walk myself, I had no idea what we might find. And, while I was by this time an expert in the sex lives of barnacles, I wasn’t sure I would be able to identify anything more exotic than a starfish (which I was trying to remember to call a ‘sea star’). So, I loaded up my backpack with every intertidal field guide I could find, some magnifying lenses, and a plastic container to temporarily house our finds. My mother was visiting, so I brought her along to help, because you never know when you’ll need your mother, and she was still fascinated by the fact that I knew about things that lived in the sea.

    We eagerly set off with a group of about thirty visitors (including five or six young children). After walking across slurpy mud and a few damp barnacle-clad rocks, we arrived at the designated spot - a rocky outcrop with small pools fringed with rockweed. We got right into it: exploring, exclaiming, puzzling, and looking up all this wonderful stuff we encountered in my field guides. There was beauty everywhere: clumps of blue mussels clinging to the edge of the outcrop, saffron-coloured sea stars, prickly sea urchins, endless bizarre worms, unidentifiable clumps of egg-seeming goop, and our big prize – a silver spotted sea anemone.

    We were all seriously into it. So into it, in fact, that I didn’t lift my head up even once to look around at our surroundings, until my mother materialized at my side, tugging on my shirt and whispering, “Um, I think you should look at the tide.” Oops! We were stranded on a rapidly shrinking rock that had gone from outcrop to island during the hours we’d been delightedly ogling sea creatures. Trying to sound as if this was entirely part of the plan, I told the group to gather up the field guides and magnifiers, and to get their backpacks on their backs and ready to go. As they looked goggle-eyed at the rising water, I realized it was time to act. As in theatre. “We’ll need to wade!” I said cheerfully, trying to keep the question mark out of my voice. “I think we should carry the kids. The water might be a little deep. Ish.”

    Illustration by Allison Roberts

    And, off we set, children precariously balanced on various sets of shoulders, my field-guide-laden backpack held high above my head. We waded slowly through rising tide with water up to our thighs. Everyone stayed very focused; there was no talking, no laughing, and we made it back to dry land without mishap. No one slipped, no one drowned, but everyone got thoroughly soaked. I was horrified. I said goodbye to my now-shivering visitors and staggered back to the office, chagrined, to explain to my supervisor that I had almost drowned an entire group of visitors. Under the circumstances, she was gentle: she gave me a talking-to, warned me to prepare myself for some negative comment cards, and we put the matter to bed.

    But, the negative comment cards never came. Instead, we got card after card of positive comments about the visitors’ wonderful experience, how their children were inspired to study marine biology, how valuable a place this Bay of Fundy was, and how ‘wow!’ A week later, the park superintendent received a letter raving about the extraordinary experience that this family had with me (Me! Clueless, disastrously dangerous, un-knowledgeable me!). In particular, they enthused, their children had loved how we had to get off the island at high tide. It was an adventure, it was exciting, and they loved the creatures they had seen.

    I learned that a sense of danger (perceived danger, not real danger) can create a very compelling experience, allowing people to feel as if they have achieved something special. This sensation can be created by leading your group across a rushing brook, taking them outside without flashlights in the dark, or challenging them to hike to the top of a certain peak. Essentially, we are providing them an opportunity to transform themselves in the environment we are interpreting. I also learned that as the guides, we are the ones responsible for the situation, and we have to find ways to keep part of our attention on the logistics.

    Munju Ravindra got her start in interpretation in her home province of Nova Scotia, as a naturalist in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. She has since worked at Fundy, St Lawrence Islands, Gros Morne, and Auyuittuq National Parks, interpreting everything from the sex lives of barnacles to the story of plate tectonics. When she’s not with Parks Canada, Munju runs a tourism and interpretation consultancy, working with communities to create transformative visitor experiences. This has led her to projects in Albania, Costa Rica, Antigua, and all over Atlantic Canada, and into subjects ranging from Siberian tigers to the art of sock-knitting in rural Newfoundland. She is also an award-winning writer. 

  • 17 May 2019 1:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by  André Y. Laurin

    Live animal demonstrations are a hoot, especially when your furry colleague is unpredictable and things go wild. My sidekicks on this particular demonstration were Sabrina and Dale, two "seasoned" Northern flying squirrels that had been hand-raised by staff in the Biosphere at Science North, where a series of habitat enclosures showcased the fauna of Northern Ontario. These animal ambassadors demonstrated their gliding skills during live demonstrations by jumping off of a science demonstrator’s hand, gliding down a few meters and landing on another demonstrator who was wearing a lab coat, only to disappear into one of coat’s pockets. Science demonstrators were, and still are, referred to as “Bluecoats” after their distinctive blue lab coats, the pockets of which were like second homes for the squirrels.

    My assistant was a new student volunteer who had observed, but never participated in this demonstration. The crowd was a typical gathering of about 100 visitors composed mainly of families with children of various ages. The time arrived in the demonstration when the squirrels would do their thing.

    Typically, I would get Dale to show-off first, because he was unpredictable in his willingness to jump. I often got a few chuckles from the crowd by insisting that Dale had a fear of flying. However, on this particular day, I decided to get Sabrina out of my pocket first. Standing on top of a five-foot tall fake boulder, I reached into one of my trusty lab coat pockets, pulled out Sabrina and laid her onto my outstretched hand. As expected, Sabrina dutifully located the other Bluecoat in the crowd, bobbed her head up-and-down a few times and jumped. She landed on my assistant’s chest and scurried right into one of the lab coat pockets to the great amusement of the crowd. This was repeated a second time in case anyone missed it.

    Now came the climax of the show; someone from the crowd would be chosen to wear the blue lab coat and become a flying squirrel landing strip! As a sort of “welcome-to-the-team” initiation, I put the spotlight on my assistant to choose one lucky visitor. After some hesitation (likely due to shock), my assistant chose a mother from the crowd. The woman reluctantly agreed to participate after some encouragement from her family and put on the lab coat.  

    After a warm welcome and introduction, I gave her few standard instructions: tie your hair back, stand right in that spot, and don’t close your eyes. I took Sabrina out of my pocket knowing that Dale might not jump. I placed the squirrel on my hand and it sat there only for an instant before jumping as though its tail was set ablaze.  

    Our brave volunteer let out a shrill scream of panic. Sabrina had landed on the woman’s chest, and rather than scurry down into the lab coat’s pocket as was expected, she made a beeline straight into the lady’s bosom. My rookie assistant and I had failed to ask the volunteer, who was quite busty and wearing a V-neck shirt, to fully button-up the lab coat.

    The crowd burst into hysterical laughter at the sight of this poor lady jumping up and down and screaming at the top of her lungs, “It’s in my shirt! It’s in my shirt!” I jumped down from my perch and attempted to calm her. When this proved useless, I asked my female assistant to take the volunteer to a private area and help with extracting the squirrel.

    Needless to say, the extraction is fodder for another good story. Sabrina was finally removed from the volunteer, who by then had suffered scratches over various parts of her torso. There was a fanfare of applause and cheer from the crowd as she returned to her family, fully embarrassed.

    It was only when Sabrina was returned to me that I realized it was Dale all along! I profusely apologized for Dale’s behaviour and then hastily wrapped-up the demonstration.

    To this day, I can’t help but wonder why I changed my routine, or why I asked a rookie assistant to pick a volunteer without prior discussion. Most of all, I will never forget how merciful that poor lady was after having put her through such agony, nor how it felt to be stuck between a rock and a hard place!

    André's Tips: 

    When faced with unpredictable animal sidekicks: 

    • Know the individual animals and their tendencies well
    • Think through possible situations and have contingency plans in place
    • Stick to your plan and play it cool when the unexpected happens
    • Always keep your shirt buttoned up!

    André Laurin discovered his passion for interpretation 20 years ago during a cooperative education placement at a science centre when he was in high school.  Having worked at an urban outreach centre, a national historic site, and in a number of roles for Parks Canada, he has accumulated a variety of interpretive disasters for his toolkit.  Andre is one of the editors of the Interpreters's Big Book of Disasters , a former Interpretation Canada board member, and a self-proclaimed naturalist-in-perpetual-training. He is currently a Resource Management Officer at Prince Edward Island National Park.

  • 26 Mar 2019 2:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Keith Bocking, Alberta Parks

    Bob Townsend was a young university student when, in 1968, he was hired as Cypress Hills’ first Interpretive Naturalist. At the time, I don’t think he thought of himself as being a pioneer for the Alberta Parks system; nor does he know that whenever I see him or think of his story, I picture him as a lodgepole pine tree.

    When I worked in the Cypress Hills I was fascinated with the succession that was occurring on the Hills’ plateau. The Cypress Hills are like a bald man’s head: the slopes are forest covered and the flat top is covered with fescue prairie. The key difference is that, unlike the man where he is losing more and more hair up top, the pine forest is reclaiming that turf. This is in part due to the absence of wild fire and the natural process of succession.

    I remember countless examples of pioneer pine becoming established in the grassland. They reminded me of those old black and white family photos where the children were lined up shoulder to shoulder from shortest to tallest. Naturally, the mother and father assumed their respective places on the tallest side. Here in the Hills, the first pine to become established in the grassland would be a stand in for the tallest parent, and ordered typically in a down-wind sequence were other pine of decreasing height and age.

    It wouldn’t have been easy to be that first pioneer pine. The Cypress Hills’ plateau is a harsh environment pummeled by wind and frequent storms year around, and at times extended periods of drought and heat. But once that first pine was in place, once the foothold was established, this first pine created an easier environment for the next, and others that followed.

    In 2018, Alberta Parks’ celebration of 50 years of interpretive and educational services recognized our early pioneers. Bob Townsend was the first hired into a dedicated naturalist position in the summer of 1968 in these same Cypress Hills. I often pictured him like one of those pioneers who against all odds became rooted like a pine tree in the Hills’ grassland.

    But through the year and in discussions with other former Alberta Parks staff, I learned that interpretive services were being provided ahead of 1968 at places such as Dinosaur Provincial Park as part of the range of duties provided by Park Ranger and interested maintenance staff. (My metaphor of pioneer lodgepole pine doesn’t quite fit the badlands environment of Dinosaur Provincial Park though – I will have to ponder that some more.)

    Bigger picture, Alberta Parks was part of the larger national and international efforts at expanding interpretive and educational services within federal, provincial and municipally operated parks across the globe. Parks Canada had formally established their program in the late 1950s and Ontario and BC Parks were also forerunners in providing these services for park visitors. So, playing on this ecological parallel, it was sort of like convergent evolution. It had become a good time to launch these services in this continent, country and province.

    In the second half of 2017, the Alberta Parks Visitor Experience Coordinating Committee grabbed-on to the idea of celebrating our 50th anniversary; a plan embraced by our program area staff and managers. A 50th anniversary logo was developed and utilized on banners, email signatures, nametags, internal documents and other materials. A Facebook group was also established for past and present staff as a forum to share stories, pictures, information about a potential reunion and celebration plans. The Visitor Services Alumni also bridged with the Alberta Parks Alumni for awareness and sharing information through their membership.

    The celebration was launched at the spring Interpretive Training workshop in early May at the William Watson Lodge in Kananaskis Country. The 50th anniversary theme was front and centre – workshop leaders were dressed in uniforms of former eras, and a couple of workshop sessions were led by retired or semi-retired Visitor Services alumni. These folks shared experience and expertise with the full love and caring of mentors who had decades earlier been in the same place as those in attendance that day.

    Throughout the summer of 2018, the anniversary was recognized and celebrated across the province. The 50th anniversary banner was displayed proudly at park Visitor Centres and at programs and special event locations. A team of Interpreters from Kananaskis Country provided out-reach programming at one-half dozen sites including Canada Day celebrations on the Provincial Legislature grounds in Edmonton.

    September saw one of the key events of the anniversary unfold at Dinosaur Provincial Park. A reunion campout was enthusiastically embraced by 40 or so past and present staff. In short it was a delight: demonstrations of interpretive services and behind the scenes tours, lots of laughter and story telling! Two of the outcomes of our campout were to carry on with a semi-formalized alumni and to set our goals on our next reunion activities including a campout in two years time. In many ways, the formation of an alumni has been one of the biggest achievements. Our membership by the end of 2018 was over 250 past and present staff.

    Personally, one of the most joyous observations was the easy gathering of present and past staff to ask questions, gain multi-generational insights and to hear of the experiences and challenges those in trenches today face. A commitment was made to look at ways for continued engagement between the alumni and present program staff – such things as leading sessions at the annual spring workshop, as was done earlier in the year, and through professional development of permanent and long term staff.

    I started a journal of sorts in 2018 with notes from impromptu interviews of our “pioneer pines”. Bob Townsend and I have remained friends and I did see him following the campout – but others made their way into the pages as well. My questions were these: how did this all unfold and what were the driving forces behind the Visitor Services program in those early days? What drove the program and the staff? The observations and stories shared will be incorporated into a blog in the near future.

    A recent visit to the Cypress Hills left me surprised at how common lodgepole pine seem to be on the plateau. As well, there seemed to be more mature trees now that were showing signs of their age: dying and broken limbs, and cones a-plenty. It made me laugh. True story, one amphitheatre character I once played was an old crabby pine tree that couldn’t wait to “pass-on”, preferably by natural forces like a wild fire, so that it could open its cones and start a whole new generation of little ones. Maybe in fact its wish has come true. Let’s check back in another 50 years and see how the place looks.

    Keith Bocking is the Parkland Area Manager for Alberta Parks' Central Region.

  • 19 Feb 2019 4:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Pam Murray

    I’ve been an interpreter specializing in school programs for almost 20 years, and throughout my career I’ve heard (and, let’s be honest, made) a wide variety of complaints from my coworkers about the difficulties presented by working with teachers in a field trip setting.    

    About 8 years ago, I pursued an Education degree.   Becoming a certified teacher gave me useful insight into a lot of the teacher behaviour I’d previously found mystifying.  As it turns out, a lot of ‘problematic’ issues with teachers are really just caused by miscommunication. 

    Here are some tips that I’ve found useful for improving communication with teachers and working with teachers on field trips.

    1.  Communicate with teachers before they arrive.

    Once the group is on site, teachers will be focused on their students, as will you, and it will be too late to pull the teachers aside to ask questions or request help.   So, it’s important to touch base about this well before the visit. 

    What this looks like will vary.  It’s harder to communicate with teachers if someone else handles your bookings, but providing some handouts with field trip expectations that can be shared with teachers at the time of booking is helpful.   For longer programs – overnight camps, full day field trips, multiple visits, it’s not unreasonable to offer some kind of orientation session for teachers.

    2.  Make the arrival process easy

    Consider for a moment what it takes to successfully bring an entire elementary school class to your site.  Before arriving at your site, Mrs. Jones may have already printed and handed out nametags, tracked down missing permission slips, arranged parent chaperones, escorted students to the washroom, borrowed jackets from the Lost and Found for the kids who arrived unprepared, organized their class onto the bus, and tolerated a bus ride with 24 excited 8 year olds before they even walk in your front door.  Greeting them at the door when they arrive, being organized, and perhaps even offering Mrs. Jones a chance to run to the washroom before you get started can really help them feel at ease, and be on your side, for the remainder of the visit. Remember, teachers are visitors too.

    3.  Learn their first name

    When referring to the teacher in front of their class, by all means call them “Mrs. Jones” or whatever their teacher name is.  But, if you are just talking one on one - answering a question during a snack break for instance, knowing that Mrs. Jones’ first name is Jessica can really help establish a rapport. 

    4.  Give them permission to help

    You know those teachers who hang out at the back of the group and don’t help you control their class?  They may just be worried about stepping on your toes.  In the school environment classroom teachers often send their classes off to specialty teachers for music, or 2nd language classes, and interrupting those teachers to discipline their class would be considered rude.  If you want a teacher to help you manage their class, you often actually have to give them permission to do so.  A quick “Hey, Jessica, just so you know I’d love your help managing your class – feel free to intervene if they aren’t behaving up to your expectations” before the field trip starts can make a huge difference in how the teacher works with you.

    5.  Observe and follow classroom culture

    When the group arrives, take a few minutes to observe how the teacher manages their class.  How do they line up?  Are they in partners? Does the teacher have a specific way of getting her student’s attention?  Are they asked to raise their hands, or is shouting out tolerated?

    Classroom routines are a very important part of managing a class, and can take a long time to establish.  Unless there is some program or site-related reason to change things, following the routines the children are already used to – like lining up in partners rather than single file - can save you a lot of unnecessary frustration.

    6.  Understand the teacher’s agenda

    Why has the teacher booked this trip? If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask.  The group may be at your park because they are specifically interested in learning forest ecology, but it’s also possible that the teacher has some other goal, like giving her class practice interacting with their community, gathering inspiration for a writing project, or just getting her class outdoors for a fun reward.  Knowing the teacher’s goals up front means you can help achieve those goals.  Yes, this may mean letting go of your own plans, but it also means satisfied teachers who are more likely to book field trips in the future. 

    7.  Be familiar with provincial curriculum

    In Canada, educational curriculum is established at the Provincial level, and is easily available online through your relevant government ministry.   Knowing curriculum honestly won’t help you much once the group has already arrived, but ensuring that your programs are linked to curriculum will help your programs across the board.  And don’t just focus on science or social studies.  Sure, your science centre has some obvious science curriculum links, and your historic site links to social studies, but can you also support the class in their math, art, or language arts goals?

    8.  Respect teachers’ decisions

    Teaching is an incredibly difficult job, and the few hours the class is at your site is only a small snapshot of what Mrs. Jones may be dealing with.   Sure, it’s annoying if teachers are disengaged, answer their phones during field trips, or fail to keep students in line, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind.  The phone call may be important.  Students may have individual learning or behaviour plans in place that you aren’t aware of. 

    If all else fails, just remember that teaching is an even harder job than interpretation, and communication is key.  The more you can establish relationships with teachers who bring their classes to you, the easier the field trips will be... and the more likely they are to return.

    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. 

  • 18 Dec 2018 11:34 AM | Deleted user

    By David Lloyd

    When was the last time that you laid in the grass and watched the clouds drift by? For me, it was the afternoon of Sunday, July 8, 2018. If you want to know when the last time that I did that before July 8, I wouldn’t even be able to guess. When I posted about the experience on social media, that Sunday in July, someone commented that it sounded like I had been sauntering, and shared a link with me. It was an excerpt from John Muir that really resonated with me.

    While on a hike in late spring this year, I pointed out to a visitor how prolific the wild roses were this year. They asked me if they smelled like regular roses. I was about to answer, but I paused… I couldn’t remember. ‘What did a wild rose smell like? When was the last time that I actually went and smelled one?’ So instead of making some excuse and then rushing off, we went over to a plant together and smelled the blooms. We discovered that the wild rose has a lovely fragrance. It was a good reminder to me that in my role as interpreter I don’t necessarily need to be rushing off to the next part of the script. We need to allow time for discovery - to give people the opportunity to connect with the landscape. We didn’t discover anything extra with the flower this time around, but one time when I stopped to photograph a wild rose while on a walk, the one that I happened to stop at had a small white spider stalking along the petals. I later discovered that it was a goldenrod spider Misumena vatia, which is known to feed on bees and other insects as they come to pollinate the flower.

    This summer at Dinosaur Provincial Park, we offered a few night sky programs during the Perseid meteor shower in August. I tagged along on one of the nights because the spot that the program was happening was a great spot for night photography, not just looking at the night sky. The interpreter that was running our night sky Perseid program this year told me that she always has trouble with that sort of interpretive program because she is so used to doing a lot of talking on interpretive programs. I feel like the night sky program was an opportunity to allow people to connect with the night sky at their own pace. Provide some star charts, point out a few interesting features/constellations, occasionally call people who may be interested over to check out something cool in the telescope, but mostly just sit back and allow the visitors to facilitate their own experience.

    So take time to smell the roses (or photograph them), lie back and watch the clouds drift by, find a spot with a good view of the sky and lose yourself in the stars. You never know what you’ll discover, and what you may inspire.

    David Lloyd has worked in various interpretive roles since being hired as a seasonal interpreter in Banff National Park in 1999. He has been the Guided Excavation Coordinator at Dinosaur Provincial Park, for the last seven summers, where he teaches members of the public how to dig up dinosaurs and takes group hiking in the badlands of southern Alberta looking for fossils.


    A Parable of Sauntering:

    Goldenrod Spider information (Royal Alberta Museum):

    Cloud Time Lapse:

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.

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