One small step into a canoe led to a big career move for Tanner Quanstrom.
In 2014, Quanstrom was working in the maintenance department at the Quaaout Lodge & Spa in Chase when a colleague asked him to help with a canoe tour. He’s never looked back.
The 24 year old is now the First Nations Representative at the Quaaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort. The resort, owned by the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, part of the Secwepemc Nation, reflects Secwepemc culture throughout its operations, from the architecture and restaurant menus to a range of guest experiences.
That’s where Quanstrom comes in, sharing his own First Nations culture with guests from around the world. His job involves developing and leading interpretive programs as diverse as voyageur canoe rides to visit petroglyphs, walking tours along the Adams River, and storytelling sessions in a traditional shelter near the lodge.
Quanstrom, a member of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, started working at the resort’s golf course when he was 17. “I started out raking bunkers and then moved on to cutting greens. I got to be really good at cutting straight lines. Later on I started going to the nursery and learning about the different types of grass and how to maintain it,” he recalls.
His next step was into the lodge’s maintenance department: “I worked in every part of the resort because that’s what maintenance is for – as a support to the other departments. I learned about the inner workings of the building — it was really interesting,” he says.
Meanwhile, the lodge’s Cultural Liaison, Frank Antoine, was developing First Nations interpretive programs at the resort. A popular tour was a voyageur canoe ride to see salmon runs in the nearby Adams River.
Recalls Quanstrom: “one day I was helping Frank get the canoe ready and he asked if I could jump on and help with the paddling. At a quiet point on the river he asked if I’d like to do this as a job. ‘This would be your office,’ he said.”
“The job was exactly what I was looking for. I’d always wanted to make a difference in the world and this was my chance: to help revitalize the culture and help keep the Secwepemc language alive.”
Quanstrom became a full time guide in 2016 and, by spring 2017, he was running the department. Throughout that time, he worked to build his knowledge of the Secwepemc language, history and culture, often with the help of local mentors. “There is some recorded information but for many things you have to go to our elders to find out,” he says.
Developing new programs is another exciting part of his role. “This winter we’re going to show people how to hunt, tan hides and make drums; next year we’re planning to offer traditional spear fishing. I have a lot of freedom to develop programs and my general manager (Jesse Ziercke) is very supportive,” he says.
Ultimately, for Quanstrom, the best part of the job is sharing his culture directly with guests from around the world. “When I take people to see the pictographs I let them know what it means to us and help them to see it through our eyes. My favourite thing is to let people touch the pictograph; that way they really get a sense of going back in time,” he says.
He also enjoys talking to guests, whether that’s addressing a group of 50 or having an in-depth one-on-one conversation. “I don’t have a script; Frank taught me just to speak from the heart,” says Quanstrom.
His advice to others? “If you want to get into tourism, there are so many different fields. If one department isn’t a good fit, you can find another one that suits your personality. Just put your foot in the door and find out what works for you.”