A New Certification in Canada

… and an interview with Tracey Gage

The Interpretive Guides Association is offering a two-day certification course in interpretation, presented (this time) via Zoom. I have known the folks at IGA for a long time, but I realized that my understanding of what they do is a bit outdated. So I took a little time to talk on the phone with their executive director, Tracey Gage, to learn a little bit about what they are offering.

Tell us about the Interpretive Guides Association as teachers of interpretation. It seems people still think of you as the people who qualify naturalist-guides in Banff area. Or maybe that’s just me. 

We have been teaching interpretation for 21 years now. Originally we were specific to the mountain parks, and we taught local ecosystem and culture content along with interpretation. We still do that, and have been branching out into other parts of Canada for the last few years. Our goal is to teach interpretation across Canada and beyond. We are doing a Tofino BC-based program for the West Coast. We heard from guide companies in Tofino that several of their guests over the years told them that their Rockies based guides were more professionally trained and as a result gave a better service/product. After hearing this many times these companies then approached us requesting we create a West Coast program. 

Training in progress, Kimberly, BC. Photo: Interpretive Guides Association

More recently, though, we have been certifying people as interpreters without the local content component. We can’t be the content experts in every ecosystem in Canada, but there is a need bring up the level of interpretation everywhere. We offer different levels of certification, from one day to multiple day programs, to meet the needs of all kinds of guides, interpreters, and educators across the country. That’s how we got to where we are now. 

What is your program like?

We take a thematic approach. We base our program on Sam Ham’s four qualities of good interpretation (thematic, organized, relevant, and enjoyable). We look at them in detail, and not just in theory. Our courses are practical: you bring your subject and your potential program, and we work with you to build these principles into your work. Practice is important in our courses, whether they be live or Zoom. Every step of the course, you are on your feet and practicing what you’re learning, and getting feedback from the group every step of the way. 

Who are your clients? 

We have interpreters and guides who give food tours, city tours, bus tours; we have hiking guides, caving guides, fishing guides, educators and teachers. We have a professor who has taken multiple interpretive certifications and they told us that our was the most valuable. We have people recently telling us that it has helped them in their careers. With the pandemic, we’ve had people in Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands saying we have helped them qualify for new jobs, or new careers. 

With Covid, teaching interpretation online has helped us survive. We still are grounded in the mountain parks, and our certification is still required to work in the field there. But we will continue to try to meet the needs of interpreters everywhere. 

Zooming it up with the Interpretive Guides Association. That’s Tracey, top right. Photo: IGA

What do you see as your role in our field in relation to, say, Interpretation Canada? How is Interpretive Guides Association different?

We are a certifying body; Interpretation Canada isn’t. We work in partnership with them, and we don’t think of ourselves as competition. Interp Canada does networking, conferencing, ongoing professional development. We see ourselves as complimentary programs. 

What is your certification that comes with this course coming up?

This course is a Certified Interpretive Specialist. Participants must get 70% or higher on the final written exam plus they are required to participate throughout the course, build a program that they will present to the rest of the group, create and participate in interpretive program feedback, participate in group work and have their cameras on throughout the course in order to become certified.

Who is the course for?

It’s for everyone and anyone in interpretation, education and guiding fields. From those working in museums, zoos, nature centres, parks, schools, touring cities, by bus or even boat. Guides of all kinds, volunteer trail leaders, people at historic sites, etc. I think it is also important to note that we offer private courses as well for companies or organizations that have a group that they would like to be trained together. If they contact me I can help set something up with them as long as minimum numbers are met. We are super excited to connect with interpreters/educators and guides across Canada and are available to chat at anytime. Please reach out to executivedirector@interpretiveguides.org if they have any questions, comments or ideas they want to discuss in more detail.

How do people sign up?

On our courses page here.

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