This man got paid to travel Saskatchewan
Ever dreamt about getting paid to explore your province? For at least one lucky person, that dream became reality. Meet Neil Fisher, aka the “Saskatchewanderer.” For the last year, Fisher’s mission has been to travel Saskatchewan and share his adventures with the world.
To find out what it’s like getting paid to explore the prairies, we caught up with the man himself.
Workopolis: How did someone raised in Coquitlam, BC, end up promoting the prairies?
NF: I had worked for the same organization for 15 years, and my girlfriend got an opportunity to head out to school here, and it was one of those experiences of, why not experience a different part of Canada?
Once I got here, I spent a year working for Global News as a camera operator, but every weekend was a road trip to somewhere new, and a coworker of mine told me about the Saskatchewanderer job, and said I’d be perfect for it. I applied and that’s the short of it.
What was it about the program that appealed to you?
It’s literally being paid to travel and to share. Upon moving here, I was immediately blown away by how amazing this province is. So to me it was an opportunity to share and promote a Canadian province that I felt was incredibly underrated.
What have you learned about the province and about travelling that you didn’t expect?
Well, Saskatchewan is not a flat province to start. It is flatter than other provinces, but the lower parts of the south are not flat, they’re beautiful.
Also, I had no idea what the heck potash was, but potash is a huge part of Saskatchewan life.
What is potash?
So potash is actually used in agriculture for fertilizer. Some is used in Saskatchewan, but we don’t need as much because our soils are already fairly high in potassium. About 45% of Saskatchewan potash exports go to the United States, and most of the remaining exports are sold to Asian and Latin American markets.
What was your career background before becoming the Saskatchewanderer?
Before working at Global News I had worked for the Vancouver aquarium in BC as a marine mammal trainer for five years. I worked with dolphins and whales and sea otters, and it was there at the aquarium that I applied to a position as a photographer and videographer.
Did you have a passion for travel before landing this role?
No, I don’t think I did. I had only left the continent once, and that was for work when the aquarium sent me to Australia. I do think I’m more of an explorer though, in that I think there’s a difference between travel and exploration. Travel you go somewhere and you have fun; exploration means going somewhere, spending the time to learn and discover something new. Exploration is an extension of understanding.
Do you think after this experience you’ll want to continue exploring?
I get asked often what am I doing after this job, and I really don’t know.
My education is in criminology, and I might follow through with that, but there are plenty of fun opportunities that might pop up, so I really don’t know.
What is a typical day like for a Saskatchewanderer?
It’s incredibly varied. You can, for example, go to the Athabasca Sand Dunes or a wheat farm. And you know, even though it often feels like a dream job, it’s still hard work.
It definitely keeps you away from home, which, if you’re not used to, can be challenging. I thrive on that on-the-go, non-stop work pace, I really enjoy that. But there are also quite a lot of content production demands, when you’re at home right in front of your computer editing, and you’re working through so much content, creating stories to really showcase everything this amazing province has to offer…it can be a lot of work. So, while it’s fun, it’s still a job, that’s for sure.
What was it that you loved the most about this job – and what was the most challenging?
The thing that I enjoyed most was really just getting to know the people of Saskatchewan. The face-to-face interaction, and the stories that I’m telling is what I enjoyed the most. As pretty a picture of a canola field is, it’s more interesting to tell the story of the farmer who is harvesting that canola field.
What I found most challenging was stepping out from behind the camera. I’d had lots of experiences as a mammal trainer, where I’d give shows to 500 people every day. But this was more turning yourself into a brand, and that was something I tried not to do. I tried to let the stories tell themselves through the people of the province.
On the topic of turning yourself into a brand, do you have any advice for job seekers looking to get into media?
I think you have to find your niche. Anybody can become a photographer; a camera is something that is accessible and affordable to everyone now. You have to find something unique; the stories that only you can tell and it can take a lot of work to find that. I think persistence is really the message. If you want to be a photographer, keep going with it until you can make it work.
Would you say Saskatchewan is a good place for young Canadians looking for work?
No question. Saskatoon, my hometown right now, is so damn cool. It’s the youngest city in all of Canada and you feel that throughout the city. It has a young, fun vibe, and there’s always something going on.
Do you have a favourite secret spot, or one that’s not that well known outside of the province?
Yeah – Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan – that is my zen place. Born and raised in BC, surrounded by mountains and trees you kind of get desensitized to that type of beauty, but Grasslands National Park is rolling prairies, there’s not a tree for kilometers. It’s the complete opposite of what I was raised in and so to me that is an exotic destination.
The Saskatchewanderer program is supported by Tourism Saskatchewan, the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Agriculture. Sound like something you’d be interested in? You’re in luck, applications for the 2017 Saskatchewanderer are now being accepted.