Time - Space - Equation

Leonard Lea Frazer

The Art of Interpretation

Mrs. Pooli of Valemount takes center stage during an interpretative talk at Mount Robson viewpoint in 1986 during the annual Pioneer Day. See Time Space Equation for the story. 
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Mrs. Pooli of Valemount takes center stage during an interpretative talk at Mount Robson viewpoint in 1986 during the annual Pioneer Day. See Time Space Equation for the story. .
Introduction: Interpretation is a skill that can be acquired and used in a variety of employment and volunteer positions. I’m not referring to “interpreting” from one language to another.
The interpretation that I’m talking about is where the “Interpreter” in most cases with the assistance of props, teaches a group of people about a given subject without boring them to death.

At old Mile 53, visitors listen to Art Carson deliver his history talk.
At old Mile 53, visitors listen to Art Carson deliver his history talk.
I first cut my teeth in the Art of Interpretation in Mount Robson Provincial Park. I was hired by BC Parks to work as a fill-in Interpreter. At that time the park had an operating “Nature House” and an amphitheatre at the Robson Meadows campsite. The park employed naturalists who worked at the Nature House and also a contract Interpreter. The Interpreter’s job was to meet and talk to bus passengers during the day, and in the evening deliver an appropriate interpretive talk to a fire-side audience beside the campground. As I was only the fill-in worker, I would do my interpreting during the regular worker’s three-days off. So, for three days and evenings in a row I would practice my interpretation. 

Students of the Valemount Christian Academy with railway parts.
Students of the Valemount Christian Academy with railway parts.
Bus Tour Talks: When a bus arrived at the Mount Robson viewpoint parking lot, I would approach the driver and get permission to give a quick three to five-minute talk. I used Q-cards until I knew the information by heart. For the bus drivers, this was a welcomed reprise from their part-time job as commentator/interpreter on each bus and they were co-operative. But, how does one engage 30 passengers who are eager to leave the bus to buy a souvenir or use the washroom? How does one deliver? I would welcome them to Mount Robson Provincial Park, explain the climbing and other human history of Mount Robson, point out the other peaks within sight and put in a plug for the new Interpretive Info Centre that had opened in 1986. If I had a small prop, such as a photograph, an animal skin, or a First Nation drum or artefact I would have the passengers pass it around in the bus while I gave my three-minute spill. I enjoyed this way of delivering a subject to those groups of visitors and often took photos for the entire group standing beside their bus. The passengers would have all their cameras on the ground and, one by one, I would take the same group shot, over and over again, until each camera had been used. 

 Mount Robson Provincial Park campers building a railway during an interpretative talk.
Mount Robson Provincial Park campers building a railway during an interpretative talk.
Interpretative Talks: However, giving a three-minute talk to bus passengers was very different from an evening fire-side talk where the interpreter and the interpretation had to engage, educate and entertain the audiences for 45-60 minutes. So, how did I do it? Well, at first (when I signed up for the job) I assumed I would do the same talk every night. Then I found out I was required to do three different talks - one fresh interpretative talk each evening.

I had some props available to me, courtesy of the Nature House, but the rest I made or supplied myself. My three talks included: “The Nature Trails” of the park, the “Human History” of the park, and one called, “Building the Railway.” I’ve learned that to keep the audiences interested in a subject, the interpreter must involve the audience. With the Nature Trail talk, an actual “walk” could be part of the interpretation. For the Human History of Mount Robson Provincial Park I would arrive at the amphitheatre with a large trunkful of costumes depicting characters from actual history. At the beginning of my entertaining lecture I would call for volunteers and have them dress up to depict such individuals as a First Nation, The Overlanders, Milton and Cheadle, mountain climbers etc. and the participants would return to their seats in full regalia. As the interpretive talk progressed I would ask the individual groups to come up and stand at the front to the amusement and enjoyment of the crowd as I explained that segment of history.

Grandparents come to the rescue as this young lad hammers in a railway spike at the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum.
Grandparents come to the rescue as this young lad hammers in a railway spike at the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum.
For the “Building the Railway” talk I would be dressed in a railway engineer’s pin-stripped coveralls and have plenty of railway hats for adults and children to wear. I brought actual railway tools that were used in railway construction. For the talk I had also fabricated a 16-foot railway that the audience could actually build from scratch. I had wooden railway tracks designed and painted to look like real track, eight-foot long 2 x 8 planks (painted black) as railway ties and also used real railway spikes and hammers to nail everything together. The history of the Grand Trunk Pacific and how that affected the growth of the park could be a rather dry and boring subject to present to any audience, especially the park audiences who were free to get up and leave any time they wanted and return to their own personal campsite. However, I’m happy to say that none of my group members ever left the amphitheatre. Here’s when the Art of Interpretation comes in.

Building the railway at Robson Meadows Campground amphitheatre.
Building the railway at Robson Meadows Campground amphitheatre.
The Interpreter needs to hold the interest of the audience for the entire talk. Having props like costumes, a model railway and physical walks of interest helped. As I had just finished completing the restoration of a “Mount Robson” patrol velocipede (three-wheeled scooter) having the audiences at my Building the Railway talks lift the velocipede onto the finished tracks was a bonus. It also accommodated a good photo-op for the campers in the park.

In later years I worked for Bruce Wilkinson and Wendy Dyson of Mount Robson Adventure Holidays, doing interpretation at old Tete Jaune Cache. A small van full of seniors or a family group would meet me at Tete Jaune where I would jump aboard the van dressed in a black tuxedo, compete with black top hat. When we visited old Mile 52 and 53 I had 11 x 14 black and white photographs (as my props) to show, to help support the local history of the area and to illustrate comparisons. The old dock site at Mile 53 is a great “living” prop and can’t help but hold your attention.

I have also volunteered for the Valemount Historic Society and school groups to do History Tours at Tete Jaune.

Leonard Frazer with his Mount Robson patrol velocipede.
Leonard Frazer with his Mount Robson patrol velocipede.
When I moved to Prince George I gave history talks on the construction of the G.T.P.  at the Prince George Library. I was able to transfer my use of props to having a slide show accompanying my presentation. Instead of the audience dressing up, they viewed historical pictures and listened to humorous stories on the topic.

When I moved to Smithers, BC I also volunteered at the Smithers Museum, and in Moricetown and Hazelton to do my Building of the Railway talk. One summer I worked at the Telkwa Museum. Every Friday evening I did my railway show. Again, I engaged the audience and allowed them to participate in the interpretation. When the railway history in question (the G.T. P.) involves the same railway passing through Mount Robson, Tete Jaune Cache, Prince George, Telkwa, Smithers, Moricetown and Hazelton all the interpreter has to do is change a few names to fit each local site. It is the same history talk in a different location.

Art Carson, of Valemount during his History Tour at Tete Jaune.
Art Carson, of Valemount during his History Tour at Tete Jaune.
I recently attended a Walking History Tour at old Tete Jaune Cache conducted by historian/photographer Art Carson, of Valemount. I am glad to see the knowledge of the old town sites is continuing to be passed on. Perhaps a new generation of interpreters will spring up to teach and preserve the rich history of the Robson Valley.

Last year, I donated my restored Mount Robson three-wheeled velocipede, my railway tools and full-scale model railway to the newly opened Dunster Museum. I did my last interpretative talk on “Building the Railway” on the day of the Grand Opening of the old Dunster station on its new site.

If you enjoy entertaining, teaching and commanding the attention of a crowd of people, remember to use physical props and allow members of your audience to participate. Make your presentation an event! You too can master “The Art of Interpretation.”

Dressing up is fun, especially when you get to ride on a big scooter.
Dressing up is fun, especially when you get to ride on a big scooter.