About once a week either Tom or I will be assigned to work in the Heritage Center at Grand Portage. Grand Portage National Monument has six areas where we can work with five of them being places where we wear our living history clothing. The Heritage Center is the one place where we do not wear our living history clothing. Instead, we wear our volunteer uniforms. At Grand Portage this consists of a polo shirt and khaki pants. It is the one place we work where we get to wear “normal” clothes.
The Heritage Center is the place most national parks would call the Visitors Center. The name here is a nod to the partnership with the Ojibwe band, meaning that we are working to uphold and properly interpret the heritage of the band. The building is new, dedicated in 2007, and is a beautiful two-story building with a museum, gift shop, administration offices, and an information center called “The Circle”. It also, of course, has the requisite restrooms.
We don’t get the restroom question very much because when people can see us in the circle, they can also see the restroom signs behind us. But we get plenty of other interesting questions. We welcome people when they come in, hand them a park brochure and tell them what they can see at Grand Portage. We announce when the movie is going to start and push the button that starts the movie. We especially encourage people to visit the Historic Site, which is across the street from the Heritage Center.
A couple of common questions that we get asked almost every day are: “Where is the monument?” and “Where is the waterfall?” The first question comes because Grand Portage is a National Monument and people think of statues and pillars when they think of monuments. But all of our land is our monument – especially the Grand Portage itself and the recreated historic fur trade center.
The waterfall question comes because Grand Portage State Park is just north of Grand Portage National Monument. The State Park has the highest waterfall in Minnesota: the aptly named High Falls. High Falls is spectacular and is well worth the visit, so we are glad to direct people there, but we do encourage them to walk around the monument first!
When working in the Heritage Center, we also have to tend the cash register for the Eastern National bookstore and gift shop. It is a very nice bookstore and gift shop so people buy lots of things. This cash register is unlike those at the last two Eastern National bookstores we worked at, so it has taken some time to learn. Fortunately there is a helpful “cheat sheet” just underneath the register. I think I made more mistakes the first day on the register here than I had at our last three parks combined!
Working at the Heritage Center is a nice change of pace from working at the Historic Site, but it is nice that we are not there every day. Variety is the spice of our retired life!