The Fort’s Essence
By Elia Marini
In the fall of 2019, the team at Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site launched into the development of a Visitor Experience Strategy. Why do we do this? How does it help us? Why does this matter? Let me try to explain!
A Visitor Experience Strategy is a planning tool used by Parks Canada to assist with the development, implementation, and evaluation of a site's programs, services, and amenities. The strategy is based on the site's management plan (completed at Fort St. Joseph in 2018) and creates a direction for visitor experiences at the site.
Typically, such a strategy consists of four pillars: (1) information gathering, (2) analysis, (3) options, and (4) action. Currently, we are working on gathering information. Under this pillar, the team sets goals for the next five years, which includes examining the site’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. We then develop an “Essence of Place” statement, and identify the thematic framework for visitor experiences at the site.
The best way to determine what makes Fort St. Joseph unique is to work with partners and stakeholders who can provide a valuable outside perspective. Therefore, we held a workshop which brought together participants from various backgrounds to engage in a variety of exercises. These exercises focused on identifying the iconic features, inspiring moments, and imagery that makes Fort St. Joseph special. Here is what some of those participants had to say:
"A beautiful place … surrounded by nature and a community of people from different cultures/backgrounds living and working together … learning from each other how to survive and live in a remote, perhaps desolate at times, place … overcome struggles personal or not … a strong, peaceful place everything has thrived through centuries."
"Nature – medicinal plants and stories behind that, bird sanctuary – kind of secret – best bird watching in the region, surrounded by trees/forest, can imagine the harshness in winter, typical Northern Ontario wildlife (mosquitoes!, eagles, porcupines, turtle, deer, swans, snakes)"
"Best Kept Secret – locals don't know everything the Fort has to offer (birdwatching, canoeing, night programs – dark sky)"
The content generated from this workshop will be used to create an Essence of Place statement, to guide us in the development and promotion of new products and experiences for visitors that reflect the site’s rich history and natural landscapes.