What did the beaver say to the tree? “Nice gnawing you!” Those groans and giggles you are now experiencing might be familiar if you have had the pleasure of getting to know longtime Francophone volunteer, Marcel Tremblay. Known for his wit, personable charm and of course his use of puns, Marcel is one of Fort Edmonton Park’s longtime personalities.
Marcel has always been a passionate educator and history enthusiast. A now-retired primary school teacher, he enjoyed summers travelling across Canada visiting historic sites and always admired the work of the costumed historical interpreters. During a visit to Fort Edmonton Park with his daughter thirteen years ago, an interpreter engaged him on the stairs of Rowand House. They had an amazing chat, wherein Marcel mentioned that he had always thought it would be fun to try out interpreting; “He gave me the hint to volunteer and I called the very next day. After looking at my resume, they asked when I could start!” He quickly got involved with Harvest Fair, Spooktacular, Christmas Reflections, “and then I was hooked!” Marcel laughs, “That was back in 2001, I think, and I’ve been in love with the place ever since”. Over the past decade Marcel has learned masses of history, and shared important conversations with visitors from around the globe, particularly in the role of Jean-Baptiste Pelletier (an imagined French engagé in the 1846 Fort).
Marcel also has spent the last thirteen years endearing himself to visitors and fellow interpreters alike with his wit and charm; former Historical Interpreter Sasha Holmes remembers “a visitor at Christmas Reflections one year told me that she always looked forward to seeing Marcel at the Park because he ˜reminded her of a wind-up toy that never ran down’; I always liked this description of him for its charm, but also for its accuracy”. Another former colleague Colleen Lawrence proudly shares a proper Marcel pun: “The Fort’s his forte.” She recalls “One (of the many) things that stood out about Marcel was the kindness in which he treated both fellow staff and visitors. He was always enthusiastic about interpreting; people loved listening to him and he loved interacting with visitors. There was always a group about when he was talking – often laughing. He was also willing to help out with just about anything, whether that was moving inside when it started to rain or giving impromptu tours of the fort to French-speaking visitors, he was there”.
Connecting with Francophone visitors and sharing his own French-Canadian history are some of Marcel’s proudest moments volunteering. With Acadian heritage on his Mother’s side, and Quebecois on his Father’s, Marcel is 4th generation Albertan and can trace his own French-Canadian heritage back to a marriage certificate in 1648 in Quebec. He believes it is incredibly important to celebrate the contribution of French-speaking settlers and fur traders in the west, especially when he frequently notes the perception that Alberta is devoid of francophone heritage; “Quebeckers are always surprised by how well we speak French” he laughs, “But it’s important that they understand how big an impact we [Francophones] had on the development of this part of the country. I’m always excited to meet French visitors, especially because I can interpret to them in their own language”. Marcel believes that one of the best parts of his volunteer experience is engaging in good discussions, in English or French. “When they ask really good questions and can spend half an hour to an hour¦it’s just great having a discussion. I was surprised how much it enthused me.”
One such great discussion, Marcel recalls, was an afternoon when a group of 20 nuns from Quebec visited the park. Few spoke even a word of English and were so excited to meet someone who could interpret to them in their native tongue. Marcel spent a few hours giving a thorough tour of the entire Fort Complex, after which the nuns joined in a chorus of the French version of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. The thrilled nuns even put up a collection for Marcel, which he politely declined and encouraged them to have a drink of wine on him at the Selkirk hotel. He beams talking about the kind of connection he could make with these eastern visitors as an ambassador for French culture in Alberta.
Beyond connecting with visitors, one of Marcel’s greatest joys volunteering is the wonderful team of interpreters he has come to call friends. “Whether paid staff, volunteers, youth¦everybody is just so enthusiastic!” He has close friends in other volunteers, like Mitchell and Evert, “We’ve been together for 10 years now, dressing in costume. What a unique friendship.” He also takes great joy in his ability to continue to contribute to the education and develop of youth, and loves working with the junior volunteers. “It might be because I’m still just a big kid” he grins. His dedication to fun is infectious, as former interpreter Nathan Coppens recalls “I remember him wearing one of the trade store pots on his head. He was one of my favourite people to work with, at any job”. One of Marcel’s greatest joys was the day his daughter, Caroline, began volunteering by his example. “They made her a beautiful costume and she learned to cross stitch.”
Marcel has been instrumental in welcoming other volunteers and encouraging them to be involved. He hopes no one will be held back if they are passionate: “You will learn so much as you go, learn the history, and learn the programs, and be welcomed by the team.” If you’re ready to join an enthusiastic team of passionate history lovers and storytellers like Marcel, think about the rewarding volunteer experience of costumed interpretation at Fort Edmonton Park.