Donovan King (BEd ‘10) is attempting to inject diversity into the tourism business. The Montreal-based guide feels that Eurocentric historical narratives monopolize the tour industry. In response, he decided to dedicate his career to counteracting those patterns of unequal representation by publicizing indigenous narratives on his tours.
As a history and English teacher in Montreal, King often took his students to see the city’s monuments, and, after receiving reprimand for giving tours without a permit, King did some research online and decided to apply for a permit of his own. Throughout the application process, King noticed significant barriers to participation for indigenous peoples and omissions of indigenous history. By law, local guides must complete a 240-hour program at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Quebec, which King feels is incomprehensive.
“It cost [approximately] $2,000 and [lasts] eight weeks, and I had to pass two gatekeepers, both [of whom were] white francophone gentlemen,” King said. “The program had major problems in terms of history content. [It lacked] any sort of indigenous acknowledgement or even basic Mohawk vocabulary.”
King’s background in history helped raise his sensibility to the gaps in knowledge that influence the views of tour guides and consequently spread to visitors’ collective understanding of the city’s history. While working on his master’s in theatre at the University of Calgary, King met an indigenous colleague who made him aware of the oversights in indigenous issues. His sensitivity to the omissions of indigenous history in traditional theatre and history then informed King’s forays into tourism.
“[We spent] many a long night over a pot of coffee reading critical theories,” King said. “[We] talked about discrimination against First Nations, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [and Canada’s transgressions from it] and started up the Optative Theatrical Laboratories.”
King, describes his tour companies as a theatrical, authentic, and representative upgrade to the simplified colonial stories that saturate the tourism industry.
Now the co-owner of Haunted Montreal and Irish Montreal Excursions, King strives to create an immersive educational experience. Haunted Montreal combines macabre history with storytelling, and King experiments with different narrative methods to highlight contemporary topics of feminism, labour, and LGBT rights. Meanwhile, King’s joint company Secret Montreal offers guided tours of Montreal’s famous Red Light District headed by a burlesque queen rather than a detached guide. In King’s eyes, tourists are looking for an engaging alternative to the traditional tour. He finds that Montreal’s visitors want to dive into the complexities of the city’s history.
“Tourists want [more than] just white people spouting out history books,” King said. “[They] want people who [they] can empathize [with].”
Based on his experience in Montreal, King identifies many gaps in representation among guides themselves. In the industry, First Nations people rarely give tours of their own land, and the proportionally-low numbers of guides from marginalized communities greatly limits the diversity of represented perspectives. Consequently, according to King, one-sided representations of Montreal’s history often become the only ones available to the public.
Ultimately, King believes that diversifying the tourism industry will help recover Montreal’s multicultural histories.
“A lot of these guides are still misrepresenting First Nations people, and, since they have a monopoly, tourists are learning this when they come to the city,” said King. “This power imbalance will result in more power imbalances.”