by Wendy Niven
What is a Heritage Interpreter, or Interpretive Guiding? I looked it up to see what was out there as far as definitions go, and came away with:
● “all the ways in which information is communicated to visitors to an educational, natural or recreational site”
● “the art of helping people explore and appreciate our world”
● “a structured approach to non-formal learning specialised in communicating significant ideas about a place to people on leisure”
● “any communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of cultural and natural heritage to the public”
And, as the definitions vary, so does the quality of the people delivering it. While there are a lot of amazing non-certified interpreters out there, what really qualifies a person to call themselves one? How does an employer know they are hiring the best? How does a client or visitor know they are getting a quality product? That’s where certification comes in.
My own journey as an Interpretive Guide began with certification. That’s because I work in a Canadian National Park and Parks Canada recognized many years ago that it needed to establish a level of proficiency for people who called themselves guides in national parks to ensure their visitors were safe and had a quality experience. The two main organizations that provide the certifications that Parks Canada recognizes are the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and the Interpretive Guides Association (IGA). The route I chose was with the IGA.
"To be certified as a Professional Interpreter means to have a achieved a level of knowledge and proficiency that one can really hang their hat on."
Photo credit: Interpretive Guides Association
It all began in 2016. Recently laid off from a job as a visitor services and communications staffer for Parks Canada, I was floating around wondering what I should do next when a friend invited me to guide for her company that upcoming summer. Since I lived in Jasper National Park, and that’s where the guiding company operated, I needed to become certified as an Apprentice Interpretive Guide with the IGA.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with the IGA. I had done their basic certification in 2012 in order to work as a backcountry wrangler for my horse outfitting friend. With my Parks Canada background, the basic certification process wasn’t difficult for me, and I expected the Apprentice Interpreter certification to be similarly simple. Boy was I surprised!
The Apprentice Interpreter course introduced me to a whole new way of looking at guiding. It’s where I learned how to really be a guide - an Interpretive Guide. There is a process to it. And a level of professionalism that’s required to do it well. What I also discovered that first summer of interpretive guiding was how much fun it was. And how lucrative it can be if you are good at it.
The next step on my journey was to complete the IGA’s Professional Interpreter certification. To be completely truthful, the primary reason I signed up for the course was simply to improve my knowledge and skills. I didn’t think much about the certification itself or its value. It wasn’t until I did the exams that I got it. This was no walk in the park. It takes practice, effort, knowledge and skill to become accredited at this level.
To be certified as a Professional Interpreter means to have a achieved a level of knowledge and proficiency that one can really hang their hat on. It means you have invested time, energy and effort into honing your skills and becoming really good at what you do. It means you have taken it on as your profession and your means of earning a living.
Being able to call myself a Professional Interpreter, and to back up my claim with certification from a recognized, credible organization has improved my confidence, helped me command a better price and allowed me to join a growing community of people who call Interpretive Guiding their career.
It has been a fun journey - and it’s not over yet.
Wendy Niven is a freelance interpretive guide, web developer and outdoor enthusiast based in Jasper, Alberta.
To learn more about the Interpretive Guides Association and their certification programs, visit www.interpretiveguides.org.