This is a feature story we prepared to raise awareness about our
latest tourism initiative in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada... I think
we are touching onto something that strikes a chord with people here.
And I can assure you that a lot of work and a lot of support from
friends and colleagues went into it... Please
let me know what you think...
There is a modest slideshow and a short feature accessible through
our Web site's Home Page that are relevant to the story:
Journeys to the Entrails of Prairie Towns Fascinate
Think of it as a visit to the pits at a Formula 1 event or as a tour
of a Russian Gulag with a labour camps specialist. Exploring the back
lanes of railway towns with an anthropologist is like acquiring a new
map of Great Plains settlements. It can yield excitement, uneasiness,
laughter, and certainly, a new appreciation for laneways. More
importantly perhaps, there are paying guests with an appetite for
hands on/behind-the-scene experiences great enough to try this out
even locally. It's all in how the experience is staged.
"Having recently completed an MA archaeological thesis on urban
settlement in Regina prior to World War I with a British university,
I wanted to incorporate and interpret some of my more evocative
findings through the excursions I have been marketing around
Saskatchewan since 1998," said Great Excursions CEO Claude-Jean
"A couple of opportunities to do just that came up recently. I
led a group of Saskatchewan housing experts on a field trip to
Regina's Core neighbourhood. We looked at how the Core's grid
layout affects activities such as crime, recreation and community
development. Imagine 16 people (under a steady rainshower) carrying
umbrellas and walking through some of the most notorious alleys in
town, being part of an interpretation of the built environment and
its significance today."
Harel adds: "in another instance, a group of 40 adult French
immersion students were in the market for an urban field trip in a
controlled environmentone where I would communicate with them
mostly in French so they could work on their fluency. I had
identified a number of back lane types in Regina, featuring some
characteristics my guests would find revealing about how the first
inhabitants of the city used the lanes to barter, travel, to hide, to
meet up, to keep their livestock or to use the privies. In many ways
the back lanes were the backbone of the city in the early 20th
Centuryall our guests were looking with fresh eyes at an
environment they thought they knew."
John Brandon is a fellow archaeologist actively involved in cultural
resource management in the province:
"You may know Claude-Jean Harel for his cheerful promotion of
Great Saskatchewan places on CBC Radio and as the owner/operator of
Great Excursions Travel Company. His training in anthropology and
interest in spaces led him to study the layout of Regina and its
effects on the perceptions of her inhabitants and visitors. Claude-
Jean will show that archaeology, while the study of human behaviour
through material things, needs not be limited to artefacts small
enough to put in a bag."
The Regina Archaeological Society's Catlinite Tabloid writes:
"Every aspect of urban development throughout the history of the
railway towns affected how residents perceived their home, yard,
street, neighbourhood, network of friends, family and colleagues.
These same aspects of urban development contributed to
differentiating communities from the original site and landscape
settlers came to populate. Drawing from his thesis, Claude-Jean uses
spatial relationships in railway towns, along with the help of early
photographs, maps, GIS and analysis to share with participants some
fascinating aspects about the places in which they live. These
findings may help those who are currently involved in revitalizing
their railway towns tap into little known resources than can generate
economic benefits locally."
One might say that back alleys are like a book that visitors and
inhabitants learn to read over time. Saskatchewan artist Wilf
Perreault has built a prolific career laying on canvas scenes of life
in alleys. He started his journey in Saskatoon; he painted alleys
even in Morocco. His work now on Regina is an important
anthropological record; an invaluable gift offered for analysis,
which is what the Back Alley Safaris achieve. Those same back lanes
are dissected and their entrails exposed, through Great Excursions,
as entertaining public interpretations; as the newest and quirkiest
tourism product to hit the market in Regina for quite some time.
This comes in the wake of a shift in the interests of travellers who
are seeking more and more hands on experiences, even those who travel
only locally. We all know that consumers are increasingly better
educated. They have access to better research tools such as the
Internet. The travel destination choices they make are better
informed. If they can be convinced that a local resource such as back
alleys can be the scene for a new type of urban adventure that will
engage guests at an unexplored level, they will give it a try and
willingly dish out what it costs to go on the journey.
There are a number of advantages to a product like this one. First,
it provides an opportunity to integrate an additional product to
local events such as rodeos, summer fairs or centennial celebrations.
It also helps brand a tourism destination as authentic, thereby
reinforcing the compelling quality of the tourism images that towns
and cities are trying so hard to establish in the Great Plains
region. Lets face it; our destination is relatively unknown to the
rest of the world.
To dismiss Back Alley Safaris as a niche product that is unlikely to
interest a broad range of visitors to the prairies would be to not
fully understand why people travel: to escape, to immerse themselves
into an unfamiliar environment, to gain new perspectives on life and
to accomplish something memorable.
It may take some time before Back Alley Safaris are run regularly
across the province, but when they were introduced this Spring to the
international travel trade in Montreal at Rendez-Vous Canada, the
country's oldest and most prestigious marketplace, more than a
few buyers gave the nod to this promising new market-ready experience.
By the way, Rendez-vous Canada is coming to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,
For more information contact:
Claude-Jean Harel, CEO
Web site: www.greatexcursions.com
Note to editors: Back Alley Safari photographs are available for