A five-storey, 600,000 cubic feet industrial space is transformed for this walkthrough exhibit.
When Bram Dams was a child in Nanaimo, his parents, both teachers, took the family on long summer road trips across Canada to explore its national parks. By the age of 16, he had visited every province and territory, dipped his toes in the Great Lakes and walked along the beaches of all three coasts. He’d admired towering totem poles at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, observed bison grazing at Prince Albert National Park and gaped at the massive glaciers of Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon.
“I had an upbringing in the parks,” says Dams. “My parents also made sure I got to see Pacific Rim National Park Reserve—we spent a lot of summers out here on the coast. I got on the West Coast Trail for the first time when I was 13.”
Dams’s love of the outdoors led to a career with Parks Canada, and ultimately things came full circle as he now works as the interpretation coordinator for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, located on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island. He leads a team of five interpreters who develop and deliver the entertaining and interactive programs that make visits to the park more educational and engaging.
“We try to make sure we have diverse offerings every day during the summer,” says Dams.
1. What makes Pacific Rim National Park Reserve special?
There’s Long Beach, a 16-kilometre stretch of golden sand with giant breakers crashing in the distance; it’s not something you can see anywhere else in Canada. Along our trails we’ve got ancient cedar trees that are 300 to 500 years old reaching up for the sky—it’s that beautiful rain forest that you see on typical postcards from the West Coast. We also have the Shorepine Bog, where none of the trees grow over 12 feet because the soil is so poor. Plus there’s the Broken Group Islands, a cluster of rocky islands, and the famous West Coast Trail. There’s always something to discover.
2. How do the programs you deliver enhance the visitor experience?
We offer that deeper level of experience and education with the programs. We provide volunteer opportunities for people who want to do some real conservation on the ground, such as joining in on regular beach cleanups, or helping to restore the sand dunes by pulling out invasive grasses while learning about this rare ecosystem in the process.
3. What’s the top draw?
The first thing that people want to do when they arrive is head straight for the sand. People are also interested in the indigenous culture, particularly on the West Coast where indigenous people are still living in the park and are a vibrant part of the local community.
4. How has the visitor experience changed over the years?
When I started with Parks Canada, we did a lot of guided tours. Now, we’ve got offerings that are more interactive. We do hands-on programs like prop talks. My favourite is Jaws, Paws & Claws, where we pull out replicas of things like bear scat and skulls that families can touch, and talk about interacting with the park’s three big carnivores—bears, cougars and wolves—in a safe way.
5. How has technology changed the visitor experience?
We’ve developed two apps for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve that give people options, as you might not run into an interpreter on the trails. On the Bog Trail, we’ve got an app that will prompt visitors with fun facts as they’re walking the trail, like how the sundews, which are carnivorous plants, supplement their diet with flying insects.
6. What’s the best thing about being a park interpreter?
I love interacting with visitors and sharing the messages about animals, ecology and water safety. Visitors remind us how important our national parks are, and how important it is to make them accessible so people can spend time in nature.
Bram Dams’s National Park Picks
Isolation and lack of human influence on the landscape, coupled with the massive natural beauty make this a special place.
I have memories here as a kid, swimming in Waskesiu Lake and camping. Growing up in Nanaimo, this was a different environment. Seeing bison in the boreal forest was powerful.
One interpreter took us to a huge erratic boulder from the glaciation era. It had come to rest on another rock and was balanced just so. Seeing that has stuck with me for 20 years.