Rosanna Strong is the owner and guide for Strong Interpretation based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. As far back as she can remember she has always wanted to have an occupation that involved animals or the environment. Her goal came to be “become the next Jane Goodall”; little did she realize Dr. Goodall did not need to be replaced! During university, she began to work summers at Assiniboine Park Zoo as a park naturalist sharing the lives of the many zoo residents with visitors and working with curators in natural history department at the Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg. After university, she went on to work full time running the zoo’s education program, training docents and continuing with the summer animal talks. She was in biologist heaven getting to know the animals on a personal level and getting paid to talk about them.
In 1990, her husband was offered a 2-year work transfer to Yellowknife and they jumped at the chance for a new adventure. Within a short time, she was working for the territorial government, parks and visitor centre’s unit, developing training plans for parks staff and helping with signage. That first summer, a fishing lodge was looking for a guide to talk about plants and animals to a group from Elderhostel. Her boss offered the lodge Rosanna’s services to be their guide. This put her on the road to running a guiding business in the North. Over the years, Rosanna has trained northerners in customer service and interpretive guiding skills, helped establish national occupational standards for tourism, was an occupational standards evaluator, worked as an environmental educator, developed on the land programming for youth, elders, and scientists, and now is back to being a tour guide full-time. All these wonderful opportunities have taken her across northern Canada (NWT/YT/NU) where the many people she encountered, young and old, have welcomed her, been her teacher and shared their stories or culture. All these moments have made her richer for it and she happily shares them with her guests.
When not working, Rosanna and her husband are avid travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Rosanna is heavily involved in the community theatre scene in Yellowknife, co-produced a production on the Daughters of the Midnight, a local social organization in Yellowknife started in 1938, and has been know to “tread the boards”. She is also an avid basket maker and is presently doing a huge installation woven in willow with at the YK Association of Community Living.
How do the experiences you offer at Strong Interpretation give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Yellowknife?
I am a groupie of the “godfather” of heritage interpretation, Freeman Tilden. In any of the tours I do I always go back to the key principles… Tell stories, make it relate to context of your guest, provoke your guests to feel and think about the subject, be passionate in your delivery, appeal to all the learning styles and senses, be entertaining, use props and other media that help tell the story and make the experience theme based.
That being said, true confessions here… I am really a biologist and not a historian. Providing tours on the history of Yellowknife and the cultures of the area has been a lucky accident in a way. The cultural history of the aboriginal people of the North is one that is so closely related to the environment that you cannot talk about one without the other. And, the Dene and Inuit I have spent time with on the land have been very generous and patient teachers. In terms of the history of our little city in the North, it is quite recent and I have had the great pleasure becoming friends with many of the longtime residents. They have fired up my imagination with the wealth of stories they have shared of what this city was like over its 80-year history. Even here the story of gold and living in remote area of Canada are connected to the environment. I am very grateful and consider myself fortunate to have all these folks open my eyes further to these stories and connections.
So, from there it was an easy leap to share my love of this place and people with all my guests. I have even gone one step further in my love of this place when I partnered with UMVA Media to develop a walking tour app of the Old Town of Yellowknife (Yellowknife Old Town Soundwalk) three years ago. It is available on iTunes and Google Playstore. Passion and personal stories are definitely part of the unique experience provided by Strong Interpretation.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
I think most important part of the evolution of providing experiences since their inception is me. I have now lived north of the 60th parallel for 27 years. In that time, my connection to place has deepened, my collection of stories has increased and I now know the places where I tour people intimately. Plus, I have become certified in my occupation as a heritage interpreter guide based on national standards. Read and learned more from peers, and about my guests travel expectations. All this builds confidence to deliver more effective tours and memorable experiences for my guests. What motivates me to constantly evolve? My guests and wanting them to go home with more then just photos; there should be stories and connections.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Good question! Only one, eh? I think the detail that goes unnoticed, but is integral to the experience would be the time preparing for a tour so it looks effortless and I am prepared for the unexpected on the trip. The focus is and should be on providing the experience for my guests, not on having them experience me searching for things or being distracted by things that don’t work.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider visiting Yellowknife and taking one of your tours?
Plan for more time here!! There is so much more to do and see then you think. And, book your tours as far ahead as you can, especially during aurora viewing times. Most of the tour operations up here are small businesses that can only accommodate a limited number of people. We hate disappointing potential guests by saying we are already booked.
What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?
In the winter, the one unexpected piece of clothing would have to be mittens not gloves, even the heavy-duty winter gloves. They just do not work at keeping your hands warm. Warm hands definitely make your experience more enjoyable at -25C and below. And, in the summer it would have to be a bug jacket with an enclosed hood. A lifesaver when the mossies or black flies are in biblical numbers when out in the bush.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Oh, that would have to be experiential travelers. Those looking beyond the large group tours for experiences where they have a hands-on opportunities or spend time with locals or a cultural group. Love that trend.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Be prepared, but be flexible in your planning to let serendipity be your guide. She has taken me on some wonderful adventures all around the world, which have made for some long lasting memories that were beyond the tourist brochures.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
That strategy would have to be my mission of treating my guests the way I would like to be treated when I travel… to be welcomed, receive professional service, be safe, be informed and feel like I have met a friend, receiving an unexpected “wow” in the experience, plus value for my dollar.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful as a tour operator in a relatively small market?
Being detail orientated! You should see the checklists prior to each tour to keep me on task and not forget anything, especially if there is a picnic added onto one of the tours. There is something very satisfying of putting a big check mark on each item.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
As a guide, these moments when the guest has a profound connection to something on the tour are equally emotional for me too. I had two delightful ladies from Korea this winter on a snowshoe tour (Stories in the Snow Tour) that a moment struck a chord with one of them. It was a brilliant day, azure blue sky, sun bouncing off the snow sending off diamond sparkles, and lots of foot prints of resident animals going about their lives. We had just ticked off prints of a short-tail weasel, lynx, marten, snowshoe hare and were looking at where some ptarmigan had roosted in the snow the previous night. A stellar track day. As we started snowshoeing again, I turned to check on how everyone was doing and noticed that the one gal was crying. My mind immediately goes to “she is hurt” or “freezing to death” and when I asked if she is okay, she replies snuffling through her tears, “it is so, so beautiful!”. The waterworks started for me immediately. I love seeing this place I call home through my guests eyes and how it touches them, like it does me. That day was one of the wonderful highlights of my winter season.
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