Prestigious honour

Grasslands' Brenda Peterson was the 2018 Saskatchewan tourism employee of the year. Now she is up for a national tourism award.

A Grasslands National Park employee has been nominated for a national tourism award for her contribution to the programs and visitor experience in the park.

Brenda Peterson is a 2019 Canadian Tourism Awards finalist in the category for employee of the year.

Her contribution has already been recognized provincially in April at the 30th annual Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence gala, where she won the 2018 tourism employee of the year award.

“Working here at Grasslands National Park is a wonderful honour,” she said. “The Saskatchewan award was truly humbling, and making the top three for the Canadian (award) at that level is just so thrilling, but at the same time so humbling. I do what I do because I love what I do, and hopefully that makes a good employee and makes people proud. I'm proud to be from Saskatchewan and I'm proud to work for Parks Canada.”

The Canadian Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) to highlight success, leadership and innovation in the country’s tourism industry. It gives recognition to individuals, places, organizations and events that went the extra mile to provide a superior tourism experience to travellers in Canada.

The Canadian Tourism Awards are considered to be the standard of excellence for businesses and organizations in the Canadian tourism and travel industry. The 2019 winners in 13 award categories will be announced at an awards gala in Ottawa on Nov. 20, which will be part of TIAC’s annual conference.

The TIAC employee of the year award is presented to a front-line employee who exemplifies excellence in the industry through professionalism, dedication, attitude, and quality of service.

Peterson has been a Grasslands National Park employee since 2011, where she initially worked as a heritage presenter.

“The paint was still wet in the visitor centre here and my job was to welcome the visitors and share the stories of the East Block of Grasslands National Park,” she recalled.

She completed her first year of employment in the park in that position, and then became the interpretation coordinator and officer for the East Block.

“That gave me the opportunity to develop programs and grow the offers for the visitor experiences,” she said. “So self-guided tours and working on hikes and activities in the visitor centre, like it says, fossils to farm tools. And then we started our digging fossils with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and that lead to the Fossil Fever event, which is our signature event in the East Block of Grasslands.”

She is especially proud of Fossil Fever, which gives the 12 daily participants an opportunity to accompany paleontologists on a day’s dig.

“They get to dig with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s Dr. Emily Bamforth, and they learn the importance of fossils,” Peterson explained. “That opportunity to dig is a very unique and special one, and I'm glad just to be able to offer that program and to work with Emily.”

One of the main challenges of her job is to identify activities that will provide an interesting visitor experience and tell the unique story of the Grasslands National Park.

“I think the hardest thing is pinpointing the message that you want to share,” she said. “You know what the broad message is, of the natural and cultural tourism, and sharing the heritage and the importance of ecological integrity, but there's so much to learn here and so much to share. So the challenge is to find something specific and narrow things down to specific things that people will be interested in and they will take away and they'll say only in Grasslands can you learn about that.”

The process to develop a new activity for visitors is done through teamwork, which is an important part of her job.

“As a team you decide the different things that you can do and as a team you will develop them, because it takes many revisions to bring out the best and what we're looking for is the best,” she said.

The interaction with park visitors is a very rewarding part of her work, but at the same time it is a big responsibility to represent Parks Canada. There are high standards to ensure visitors have a quality experience, and Peterson is also a quality visitor experience trainer.

“I teach new employees the expectations of Parks Canada to the job that they do, and I take that role very seriously,” she said. “You're the face that people meet, and we can build the relationships or we could end them, but the most important thing is to build them. I believe that if you can share the love of what you do with the people that come in the door, that it's a mutual respect. You're sharing what you know and answering their questions to the best that you can, and giving them that A plus experience and they'll be back. It's so rewarding to have those people come back, and I think that is the measure.”

She joined the team at Grasslands National Park after an education career of 33 years. She was a teacher and a principal, and after her retirement she was looking for something else to do.

“I think the skills were all transferable,” she said. “The things that I learned as a teacher and as a principal in dealing with people, with leadership, and everything I learned in the school system, was applicable to working with Parks Canada.”

She feels a close connection to the vast landscape of the Grasslands National Park, because some of her family’s land became part of the park. She and her husband traded land they had in the park for land outside the park boundaries. She therefore views her position of interpretation coordinator and officer as an opportunity to share her love for the land with park visitors.

“When people come to Grasslands National Park, I hope they will remember it, because of the quality of the experience that I give them,” she said. “I'm lucky to have great staff that I work with and they share those passions too.”

She feels fortunate to have a job in such a beautiful setting that provides her with so much fun and interesting experiences.

“It's such a beautiful place and I love working here, and I think it's the relationship to the land that makes my job a good one,” she said. “There's paper work and all that kind of stuff, but the reward is that you are in the midst of the grasslands and a beautiful place. … I get to take people on hikes, I get to meet people every day, I get to share my love of the land in hopes that they will appreciate the Grasslands National Park. It's such a beautiful place.”

In addition to Peterson’s nomination for the employee of the year award, several other Saskatchewan organizations are 2019 Canadian Tourism Awards finalists. The Harvest Eatery in Shaunavon is a finalist for the culinary tourism award, Saskatoon’s Wanuskewin Heritage Park has been nominated for the indigenous tourism award, and Over the Hill Orchards and Winery in Lumsden is a finalist for the small business of the year award.

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