With Lise Vaugeois
As told to Matt Prokopchuk, Photo by Shannon Lepere
Lise Vaugeois is no stranger to trying new things. Coming to the Lakehead in the early 1990s to join the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Vaugeois would spend 13 years playing French horn with the TBSO while helping spearhead various music education initiatives in the city. She completed her graduate studies, including a PhD in education focusing on culture and colonization, and lectured at Lakehead University, all while becoming a certified sea kayaking instructor. Now, Vaugeois is serving her first term in provincial politics after being elected to represent Thunder Bay-Superior North in this spring’s provincial election. Vaugeois spoke with us about her move into politics, getting into kayaking, and what’s on her music playlist.
The Walleye: You’ve worn many hats throughout your career. What made you want to add politician to that list?
Lise Vaugeois: I’ve been involved in activist struggles since an early age. When I was introduced to feminism as a teenager, it really helped to explain some of the things I had been experiencing and that I was seeing other families experiencing. So, that’s the start, but it goes many years throughout my lifetime, really trying to understand what holds inequality in place, what holds oppression in place—so that’s kind of a thread that’s gone throughout my academic work. There are only so many things you can do from the outside. All of these forms of activism and the different ways people engage are really important, but I also wondered and wanted to see and engage at the political level because there’s certain things that can only be done at that level. That was a big piece of it—also, really caring about this community.
TW: You’re also a kayaking instructor. How did that come about?
LV: I got introduced to kayaking through the Rossport symposia. I’ll say that was really the key to falling in love with living here—we know that the hiking is spectacular and there are many, many great things about being here, but going out on Lake Superior just opened up a whole amazing world. You meet the people in other watercraft when you’re out there too. You meet the sailors and go to Thompson Island and see this amazing setup they’ve got out there, and there have been great communities of paddlers over the years. I have gone on wilderness trips along most of the north shore of Lake Superior, but I’m also a nervous paddler. When Lake Superior kicks up—as she does—I’m prone to get pretty stressed about it and I have gone for an unplanned swim more than once [laughs]. When I finished my PhD, the reward for myself was to go learn to be an instructor, so I did several courses that summer, really to build my confidence and my ability to judge; the other piece is that I love teaching, so it’s always a pleasure to introduce new people to paddling and guiding people to paddle safely and making wise decisions.
TW: What’s your favourite place your career has taken you?
LV: I lived in Germany for two years when I was studying and I lived in London, England for a year studying—the program was called performance and communication skills, but what it really was about was working together with schools and community groups to put together amazing musical projects. So I did that and we brought that to Thunder Bay [in the late 1990s], together with Colleen Kennedy from the TBSO. We did many projects in the schools and I put together a van-load of instruments and I built a lot of them that I would take into the schools. This was not a replacement for band programs, but it was originally meant to be enrichment and in the elementary schools at that time, all the music programs had been cut, and so there weren’t any even decent percussion instruments in the schools. So I built a whole whack of stuff and bought a lot of stuff and then took all those instruments into the schools. These projects were quite involved and ended with performances by students, and that kind of came out of the training that I did in London.
TW: What’s on your music playlist these days?
LV: Such a range. It could be anything from music from Africa, Latin America, some really interesting jazz artists, but my desert island music goes right back to high school, and that would be the Bach Brandenburg Concertos.
TW: And who is someone you really look up to, or a personal hero?
LV: You know, I have two: Buffy Sainte-Marie and Angela Davis.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.