As a tour guide at Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, Peter August couldn’t be more at home. The dizzying tourist attraction’s spectacular setting satisfies his love of nature, and his intense curiosity about other cultures is stoked daily as guests from around the world push through the turnstiles.
Having spent most of a decade in the tourism profession as a guide, August is keen to dispel a concern some young job-seekers have expressed about his work. “People ask me, ‘Don’t you get bored with tourists asking the same questions day in, day out?’ And my honest answer is no,” he says. “Sure, it’s the same questions, but they’re never asked by the same guest twice. I love educating people who visit BC, and learning about them as well.”
August admits he fell into the tourism profession by chance, thanks to a cousin who owned a tour company. “He encouraged me to take a course about tourism at Capilano [University], and I quickly realized it was an intriguing field to be in,” says August, who had held jobs in many different fields without finding fulfillment beyond collecting a pay cheque.
While continuing his studies, August worked as a tour guide for various regional venues, most significantly at the Museum of Vancouver in Vanier Park. One day, Kara Butler, the assistant operations manager at Capilano Suspension Bridge, visited the museum and was impressed by August’s evident people skills and easy-going rapport. “She told me she was looking for guides at her workplace, which I had always been interested in,” he recalls. “We talked a little more, and then she pretty much hired me on the spot.”
August was 52 years old when he became a guide at Kia’palano, Capilano’s First Nations’ Cultural Center. As a proud member of the Squamish Nation himself, August is ideally suited for the task of talking to visitors about Indigenous heritage. Butler points out that August’s maturity is also a plus. “We have a staff of 225 people who guide, work in retail, welcome guests at the entrance — you name it,” she says. “Young people are a great asset: We train them thoroughly, and they develop strong skills. But our older employees are equally important to us, and when a position for guiding crops up we look for applicants who are at least university level or older, who are studying ecology or forestry and who are confident speaking to groups. Peter has that in spades, plus he knows a lot about culture and history.”
Butler adds that the operational aspect of the Capilano Suspension Bridge dovetails with the needs of older employees. “We attract them because we’re a year-round operation, and they don’t have to worry about being laid off,” she says. “We’re fortunate to have a wonderful age mix of staff, not just kids.”
In addition to working at Kia’palano, August conducts ecological and historical tours in the forest on the west side of the suspension bridge. “The length of the tours varies depending on the size and makeup of the groups,” he says. “I may be biased, but I like the older tourists the best. They’re the most engaging, and they really listen to what you have to say.”
August hopes to earn a degree in tourism management within a year and ultimately intends to create his own business. But for the foreseeable future, he’s happy welcoming guests to his workplace. “Every day, I meet new people, plus my colleagues are people like Kara who are climbing the ladder in this profession and are a great inspiration to me.”