Appealing to the Cultural Tourist at Fanshawe Pioneer Village

Sheila Johnson

Culture is the primary means by which communities determine their sense of place. Place based marketing is promoting the unique cultural character of a place - history, landscape, architecture and culture. The “place is the product” and that place can only be understood though a number of different cultural experiences. Place based marketing is the most effective way to appeal to the cultural tourist and meet their specific needs.

Cultural Tourists will dominate the casual visitation of Fanshawe Pioneer Village for the next decade and this market segment is interested in authentic, learning experiences. To appeal to this growing audience, the Interpretation Master Plan was initiated in 2004. A new interpretation for Fanshawe Pioneer Village was identified in the 2003 Master Development and Business Plan as a key initiative to prepare this museum for future growth. The existing interpretation was uncoordinated, unauthenticated and varied greatly in quality from interpreter to interpreter. In 2004, Dr. Christine Castle was engaged to develop the framework for a new, coordinated interpretation for Fanshawe Pioneer Village. In 2008 - 9, she was brought back to develop the implementation manuals. Now complete, museum staff are poised to launch this new interpretation for the 2010 season.

Why is this important? Dr. Christine Castle has prepared two excellent reports that outline the new “story” of Fanshawe Pioneer Village. This story was developed in partnership with key staff and volunteers and there is considerable buy in from the organization. The new storyline is authenticated with over 50 research papers. Some completed by Dr. Castle, but most completed by students of the Masters in Public History program of the University of Western Ontario over the past five years. The new story is interesting, weaving in the experiences of real people. The new story is coordinated so visitors discover a progressive story as they move around the site and the new story is layered, bringing in more or less information, depending on the interest and age of the visitor.

The primary purpose of Fanshawe Pioneer Village is to tell the story of the founding and rural development of London and eastern Middlesex County from 1820 to 1920. This story has been coordinated with the Ontario Museum of Archaeology and Museum London to ensure no overlap in mandate or public interpretation. We tell an important part of the total story - the founding of this region.

It is a story of great interest to our tourist visitors. They want to know where settlers came from, why they came to this region of Ontario and how their lives changed over two centuries to become what they are today. The ethnic composition of those first settlers and their efforts to build a home in a new land indelibly marked the character of London and the rural communities of Middlesex County. Sense of place originates here.Telling stories is what museums do. Ensuring that those stories are accurate, engaging and relevant to cultural tourists from either around the corner or around the globe, will create the type of experience that satisfies their needs.

Given that the cultural tourist will dominate our casual visitation for the decades ahead, shaping the experience to the needs of this particular visitor will be critical to the future sustainability of museums and heritage sites.