Museum to welcome historical performance

photo courtesy of Mike Mitchell Vilhjalmur Stafannson was an explorer who trekked the arctic at the turn of the century.

photo courtesy of Mike Mitchell
Vilhjalmur Stafannson was an explorer who trekked the arctic at the turn of the century.

The organizers at the Hay River Museum are trying something a little different this year.

Not only are they keeping the building open for the winter, they have partnered with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre to bring a travelling show. Yellowknife author Jamie Bastedo will portray turn-of-the-century Arctic explorer Viljalmur Stefannson, as part of what he dubs “edutainment.”

“It’s not just spewing facts or giving a lecture,” Bastedo told The Hub last week. “There are subjects like history that can be quite dry, dusty material, that are good for combating insomnia — but if you can find the story, you can make it come alive.”

In that spirit, Bastedo will be presenting what amounts to a one-act, one-man biographical play about Stefannson on Dec. 4 about a man who and added about a thousand square kilometres to the map of Canada.

Museum board member Beatrice Lepine said she had some doubts as to whether the show would draw a crowd, but after reading Stefannson’s biography, she was reassured.

“I didn’t know about this guy. He was news to me,” she said. “But I found he was unique and interesting, and I think people will be really drawn to the story. I’m looking forward to it; I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Bastedo said he thinks the key to engaging people in history, particularly regional history, is to find the right characters. Stefannson, whom Bastedo describes as eager to learn Inuit culture on his journeys, is an interesting example of the era. This year is the 100th anniversary of his Canadian Arctic Expedition, in which he spent a total of 10 winters and 13 summers in the North.

The show is based in Yellowknife, but will be likely be travelling elsewhere in the territory besides the capital and Hay River. Bastedo said that once the character is “up and running” he will likely take it to different communities.

“I’m surprised more people don’t do this,” Bastedo said, referring to the historical re-enactment aspect of his performance.

He described going to the Yukon and seeing Robert Service’s house, complete with actors playing characters from the poet’s life.

“There’s a charm and a spell created,” he said. “It’s almost magical… like a time travel mechanism for learning about the past in an interesting and engaging way.”

-Sarah Ladik