bear skeleton under museum glass

The joy of answering interesting questions

In our “Behind the Scenes” series, Discovery Program staff across the province share a backstage glimpse of their favourite programs and projects. Today’s post comes from Anna Scuhr, Discovery Program staff member at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Many joys come along with being an Ontario Parks’ Discovery Guide. We work in some of Ontario’s most beautiful places, with coworkers who share our passions, and a job that is never dull.

At Lake Superior Provincial Park, we may find ourselves posted at the Agawa Rock pictographs, leading a guided hike or a children’s program, facilitating an Art in the Park program, or maybe taking part in an ecological survey. We also work behind the information desk at the Visitor Centre ready to answer your questions about the park!

Staff member standing behind information desk.

Lake Superior’s Visitor Centre is located along the Trans-Canada Highway, which effectively bisects the park, north to south. Thousands of visitors, from all over the world and all walks of life, walk through our doors each season. For our visitors, whether they are visiting the park for the first time or the hundredth, the Visitor Centre provides a sort of hub for curiosity.

What would you like to know?

We get asked a lot of questions each day. We also get asked many different kinds of questions. 

Many of the questions are relatively common:

  • “Where is the nearest gas station?”
  • “Do you have a bathroom?”
  • “Where can I find the weather forecast?”
Pine Marten in snow.
Pine Marten

Some questions we get asked quite often but are still excited to answer:

  • “I’d like to go for a hike today. Where should I go?” (Let me tell you about one of my favourite trails, Orphan Lake!)
  • “How much water is there in Lake Superior?” (11.3 quadrillion litres! Can you believe it?!)
View from first lookout on Orphan Lake.
View from first lookout on Orphan Lake

Others can be a bit funny:

  • “What time do you release the animals?” (The park is their home, and they’re out there all the time!)
  • “Are there bugs in the park?” “Insects of any kind? “Biting ones, like mosquitoes and blackflies? (Yes, yes, and also, yes.)
  • “Is that a dinosaur?” (No, that’s actually the skeleton of a Black Bear!)

bear skeleton under museum glass

That is a great question!

Then there are fascinating questions. The ones that really excite us and challenge our knowledge of the park. 

View of Lake Superior shoreline.

Some of them have relatively straightforward answers:

  • “Does Lake Superior have a tide?” (No, although it is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, it’s not quite large enough to be affected by the pull of the moon. It does, however, experience a periodic sloshing effect known as a “seiche.”)
  • “Why are many of the branches of the trees alongside the highway red?” (Road salt!)

Other questions are a little trickier to answer:

  • “I saw a bird; can you help me identify it?” (This question is especially enjoyable when it’s accompanied by an enthusiastic imitation of the bird’s call.)
  • “What would this forest have looked like before humans?” (That’s an excellent question, but a tough one to answer. The changes in the forest are well documented through the logging era, but humans have been inhabiting this area for thousands of years before that.)
Common Loon.
Common Loon

Our favourite type of questions

Of all the questions we get asked, some of our favourites are the ones we don’t actually know the answers to yet because it means we get to learn something new.

  • “What is the name of this flower I found?” (Hmm, I don’t know that one. Let’s look at a field guide together and find out!)
  • “I found some poop! Can you tell me what animal it came from?” (That’s some neat looking scat! It looks like it came from a carnivore, but I’ll have to take a look at a book to figure out which one.)

At times, this deluge of questions can feel a bit overwhelming for new park Discovery Guides, but we learn more and more with each question we have to look up. We also quickly learn to become comfortable with not knowing all the answers, all of the time.

We’re also lucky to be a part of a team with a diverse suite of interests and expertise that we share with each other. 

  • “What kind of lure should I use to fish for Lake Trout?” (I’m actually not sure since I’m not an angler myself but let me grab our park warden Chris, and I bet he can teach us.)
Lake Trout
Rainbow Trout

Sometimes we just don’t know!

  • “How many trees are there in the park?” (I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that question. Let’s just say a lot! I can tell you that there are at least 19 different species of trees in the park!)

Looking out over the vast forest of Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Whether staff have an answer or not, interesting questions and the curiosity behind their questions provide opportunities for discovery and connection, and that’s what our job is really all about.

Though we deliver informative programs, we are not merely educators. Ontario Parks’ Discovery Guides are, first and foremost, interpreters.

Staff talking to visitors on a trail.

The National Association for Interpretation defines interpretation as “a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.”

Questions are actually a gateway to facilitating meaningful connections between visitors and the landscapes in which we work.

Good questions can lead to a shift in perspective, a more profound appreciation for our parks, and spark further curiosity and exploration.

Explore. Observe. Discover. That’s the Discovery Program motto!

Keep asking questions and continue to be curious

Polyphemus Moth on staff hand.
Polyphemus Moth
  • “Did you know you have the coolest job?” (I sure do!)

here are many joys that come along with being an Ontario Parks Discovery Guide. Answering interesting questions is one of the greatest. They make us laugh, allow us to share our knowledge and passion, prompt us to learn new things, and invite us to contemplate the mysteries and meanings found within our parks.

To our visitors, thank you for sharing your questions with us and helping to make our job such a joy!

Visitor Centre

Have a curious question to help you identify a critter or plant seen in Ontario Parks? Drop by the Visitor Centre to ask us in person, or ask on social media by using #AskAnOPNaturalist.

Stay curious. And stop by and ask us a question!

Do you want to join our expert team of question answerers?

Applications to join our Discovery staff are now open for the 2023 season! Learn more about working at Ontario Parks on our website.