Self-guided tours of Alberta — complete with thousands of interesting historical facts along the way — will soon be a click away thanks to the History Check app.
The free app and website are set to launch in June 2017 with an estimated 5,000 points of interest.
“It’ll be real easy for people to travel along and they’ll get notifications if they choose that ‘Bing! Something happened here,'” Sheila Willis explained.
“It could range anywhere from the fact that the Alaska Highway is now a gravel road by Smith or Cornwall’s Northern Transportation Company Offices were in the Tipton parking lot, a grocery store in Athabasca. There’s so much history up there but it’s being hidden by pavement, literally. It’s really an exploration app.”
Think of it as a self-guided tour literally at your fingertips.
“It’s not only the stories that are left untold; it’s relating them together,” Willis said. “What’s related in the north is related in Edmonton, is related to Calgary and it all gives us a common ground.”
Willis is the executive director of Friends of Historical Northern Alberta Society (FHNAS), the not-for-profit group putting the app and website together.
“The thing was: how do we share our history? There’s so much. Fort Vermillion is older than Edmonton but nobody knows that there’s all these little gems sitting along the way. We came up with this idea and… have probably spent more than 10,000 volunteer hours combined to get this off the ground.”
FHNAS is working with municipal and provincial archives as well as municipalities and local businesses to add historical information into their treasure trove of data.
“We’re especially looking for indigenous stories because I don’t think they’ve ever had the opportunity to tell a lot of the stories they have.”
The app will be in map form. Shown on the map will be icons for five different categories: history and museums, other points of interest, camping and lodging, recreation and travel services. That way, other travel information related to things like camping, gas stations, attractions and accommodations, will also be included in the map app. There will be practical locations mixed with the fascinating stories behind historical hot spots.
“Edmonton has been, for 100 years ago, known as the gateway to the north,” Willis said. “When the railroad was coming through in 1912, there was a guy by the name of Hugh McIntyre and he actually took the Edson Trail, but he stayed at the Cecil Hotel on 103rd and Jasper Avenue. The lot across the way had been traded for a suit of clothes the year before and was on sale for $60,000.”
Willis’ father-in-law would have been 100 years old this year. He lived in Smith, Alta. and served as the initial inspiration for this project.
“Living in Smith, the Klondike gold rush went through, 100 years ago or 120 years ago. You literally had to go through Smith to get to Peace River or Grande Prairie. There was no other trail. So we have all that history. We have the steamboats, we have the railroad, we have the German POW, the Alaska Highway and on and on. So, he would tell me all these stories and you’re thinking, ‘Really? You’d never know that to walk by.'”
She hopes others will be inspired by what they learn.
“This is a searchable app so you can search by keyword. It really doesn’t matter if you’re interested in railroads or your family history or whatever, you’ll be able to isolate those particular points just by searching, then you can go to the areas and explore more.”
“The other feature is the near-me feature. At any point, you can click the near me button and see a ground-level view of whatever is around you,” Willis said.
The app will also be interactive, inviting users to share photos of sites they visit or chat with friends.
“You can share on Facebook and Twitter. You can also take your selfies and post them. There’s a messaging system between friends and you can also make comments… We kind of started out with this go-cart idea and we’ve turned it into a Cadillac.”
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