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.
To check out some of the photographs Jenni has taken at Fort William Historical Park, visit www.jennigrandfield.weebly.com and click on “Photography” and then “Photography Collections.” Choose the reenactment photo of a battle– when you click on it, there are many more in her Nor’westers collection.