Get to Know Vancouver Tour Guide Will Woods

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Will Woods is the hat. You’re not quite sure what his hair looks like because in every photo, interview and now, in person, he’s wearing a small fedora. The second thing that strikes you is his British accent. And the third thing – the fact he knows more about the history of Vancouver than anyone. GuideAdvisor sat down with Will recently to talk about booze, murder and a number of other shady topics that are synonymous with his entertaining walking tours, such as Prohibition City. We also learned what it’s like to be a Vancouver tour guide.

Thanks for meeting with us, Will. So how  did a British guy like you become a renowned Vancouver tour guide?

Interestingly, 10 years ago a friend and I thought about starting up a guided bus tour company in London (England) but it wasn’t the right time. Two years after that I was tired of working in the corporate world and my girlfriend (now my wife) decided we needed a change. She’s originally from Boston but we had heard that Vancouver was a beautiful city so we decided to come and check it out. And we stayed! Eventually I blagged my way into acting school, which was interesting. On my first day I was surrounded by young but serious acting students and the first thing we did was an improv exercise. I was terrible. (laughs)

And after acting school you took up guiding?

I had gone on guided trips before and two really stood out to me (one in Seattle and one in Edinburgh). They were so good because of their historical accuracy and entertainment value and I figured I could do something like that here in Vancouver. I wanted to create themed tours that evoke a sense of history in people’s minds. So I spent a lot of time in the library researching historical events in the city and then launched Forbidden Vancouver in early 2012.

And how’s the company doing two years later?

We now employ eight guides (plus me) and in the summer months we do two tours a night. We like to change up our offerings so we’ve done a “Secrets of the Penthouse” tour, a “Granville Street Reveal,” and a “Who Killed Draft Beer Tour.” That last one was fun because the guides acted as characters based on real historical people and they were suspects in a murder investigation. Eventually the tour group had to figure out who did it. Currently we’re offering a “Prohibition City” tour, which is a lot of fun because it’s all about when prohibition was enacted in Vancouver in 1917 and the criminal fallout.

What’s the best part of your job?

I enjoy entertaining groups of people – I’m a big extrovert. Whether it’s locals on a date or visitors from another country, there’s nothing I want more than to get them to enjoy a tour. Every day for me ends with applause – there aren’t a lot of jobs like that.

What’s a typical day look like for you?

I spend the day managing eight guides, scheduling, communications, marketing. Then in the evenings, if I’m scheduled, I’ll do a tour. I do a few tours a week and for me it’s all about prep. I do voice warm ups every night – you have to when you’re on the street storytelling to 20 people. The last thing you want to do is strain your voice. All my tours follow a pre-determined path but we can improvise occasionally. And I love it when I get questions, although it can be hard to answer when you’re acting as a 19th Century character and someone asks about a modern-day event.

What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you while on a tour?

Our Prohibition City tour goes through an area of Vancouver called Victory Square that is very popular with film crews. I was leading the tour one day and as we all arrived at the Square, it had been taken over by a film crew. They were filming a WWII-era movie complete with scores of men dressed as soldiers. It was surreal leading a walking tour through the set surrounded by soldiers, tanks and barbed wire!

Any weird requests from a client?

“I can’t remember where I parked my car. Can you walk around with me until I find it?” We did find it eventually.

In your opinion, what makes a good tour guide?

It’s all about passion! Passion for the city, its history and for entertaining a group of people.

Why do you do what you do?

I believe in the power of storytelling to connect humans. It goes back to cave man times sitting around the camp fire. It’s very powerful to engage with someone on a personal level – you just don’t get that from a single line in a guidebook. To me, effective guides do not just impart facts, they’re storytellers.

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