For renowned historian and storyteller John Adams, it all got started at Fort Rodd Hill. His career will come full circle when he features as part of the entertainment at the Colwood Seaside Festival on Sept. 18.
For three summers in the early 1970s, Adams, who says he has always had a fascination with history, took a job as an interpretive guide at the national historic site.
“It was one of those fabulous summer jobs … It was really my first experience giving guided tours and learning how to do it,” he recalled.
Adams had experience with public speaking in high school, having taken a course and participated in Toastmasters. He’d also done some acting in elementary and high school. “I wasn’t unfamiliar with standing up in front of people and talking,” he said.
Still, guiding and storytelling was a bit of a different animal and it’s something that Adams admits he had to work on.
“It got better with practice.”
His experience at Fort Rodd Hill further piqued Adams’ interest in history, and as a consequence he made the decision to enrol in a museum studies course at the University of Toronto.
Seventeen years ago he founded Discover the Past, a tour company that continues to deliver historical and ghostly walking tours around Victoria.
The key to a good story, Adams explained, is to capture the audience’s imagination.
“A dramatic element is helpful. It’s like any kind of story, like any kind of novel or play. It has to build up, there has to be a crescendo and there has to be a good focal point or finale,” he said.
One of the elements of his profession that he enjoys the most, beyond interacting with the guests on the tour, is the element of preparation. A lot goes into telling a story and it takes many hours of work before a tale is ready for a full audience.
“The research, for me as a historian, is a really integral part of this. I enjoy doing the research and that usually involves long hours in the archives, looking at old newspapers, documents and reading other people’s accounts,” he said.
Adams then rehearses his story meticulously, practising what he’ll say and where he’ll say it.
“It’s almost like a stage play … but for the public it should look as though it’s coming natural,” he said.
Adams isn’t exactly sure which of his many stories he’ll tell at the Seaside Festival, but said he’ll sprinkle in a mix of history and ghost stories that will be informative and entertaining for audiences of all ages.
“[Fort Rodd Hill] is beautiful. It’s one of the most beautiful settings around … You can talk about so many things, you can talk about the natural beauty of the scenery … and you can point in almost any direction and tell stories of human interest.”
Of course, there are some spooky elements to Fort Rodd Hill, as with many sites in the Capital Region, and Adams plans to delve into some of those as well.
Other entertainment options at the festival will include a puppet show, musical performances from Cookeilidh (featuring Irish and Scottish tunes with a Maritime flavour) and The Big Weee (bluegrass covers). Local food trucks, box kite building and a “vintage selfie station” are among the other highlights.
The festival will take place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. Admission to the site is free for the day.
For more information, visit the event’s website at colwood.ca/seasidefestival.