What is it like to “become” a voyageur at Fort William Historical Park?

What is it like to “become” a voyageur or another character at Fort William Historical Park? Is it fun or hard to do? (Mikaela, 14) Jenni Grandfield, who works at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario, answered the question for me: I’m studying art at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, but I spend my summers in Thunder Bay working at the Fort. This was actually my seventh year working as an interpreter. Most of the knowledge we have as workers comes from personal research. We’re given a “character sheet” that has different sections of information on it; it could have a birth date and place, emotional disposition, family connections, contract information, etc. We are expected to develop our character (and filling in the blanks), either by finding actual facts (typically out of journals, since almost all our characters were real people), or by researching and making informed guesses (what we call “composite” information). We do have a few characters that are considered “primary” people like William MacGillivray and Dr. John McLoughlin, who there is an abundance of recorded history about. To play them, you have to write a test that proves you have developed a rather high level of knowledge. After writing this test a few years ago, I determined that it’s much harder to play someone we know very little about; it requires the grace and caution to invent believable information about someone who really existed. My main character was a real woman named Jeannette Dauphin; she was the wife of a carpenter who spent most of her time raising three children and doing work in the kitchens. Besides that, she was born in Grand Portage, that’s really all I know for sure about her. When you spend a lot of time thinking about your character, you start to get a feel for what they may have been like. When I think about Jeannette, she gives me the impression of a very strong, compassionate woman, who could be trusted to make the right decisions. When I play Jeannette, it’s a little like improv acting; I have to consider how she would think and behave. You really start to feel a connection to the people you play, as if they are a close friend you’ve had lots of private talks with and care about very deeply. Nikki To check out some of...
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Is that a real voyageur on the book cover?

Is that a real voyageur on the book cover? Is it a real birch bark canoe? (Justin, age 13) This voyageur is a “historic interpreter” who works summers at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The photo was taken by Jenni Grandfield, who spends her summers in Thunder Bay working at the Fort as an interpreter. (Check out the post next week about what historic interpreters do — coming soon). This canoe is used daily for canoe rides ($5) to the public, so it’s very sturdy — fiberglass made to look like birch bark. Jenni took photographs from a variety of angles to get it right. “Because of how the dock is set up,” Jenni said, “our voyageur would have had to be at the back of the canoe (the gouvernail or guide’s position) which belongs to the most experienced person in the canoe.” Since in the story the character is a very new voyageur, she knew it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to sit in the stern, or back, of the canoe for this purpose. One more note — he is related to me! His father was showing family photos at a family reunion this summer. I asked if he’d be willing to be on the cover and his parents helped it to happen. And recommended Jenni as a photographer. Isn’t that amazing?...
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