ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- A new augmented reality app has launched in St. Thomas, Ont. which is bringing history and culture to life in the city.

"I think one thing that the pandemic has taught us is that digital experiences are really important to connect us," says Daniel Kharlas, COO of EXAR Studios and co-founder of the app.

"Augmented reality is that tool where you bring the digital layering on top of the real world, and we want to bring real stories with that new digital medium. At the Veterans Memorial there is a beautiful mural that's been painted here there's more stories to tell about soldiers through time and we want to be able to tell that."

At the cenotaph in St. Thomas, the app brings up virtual poppies and users can click on profiles of local soldiers.

Engage AR app
Engage ARt app at Veterans Memorial in St. Thomas, Ont.

There are five experiences in the city, with others in London. Port Stanley will be added later this year. In a partnership with Elgin County Museum, and funded by the Donna Evans Bushell Estate, the app will allow people to get history and culture on their smartphone.

"We wanted to add something that would help attract a younger audience, and really make something engaging for people to get to like at street level," says Andrew Gunn, consultant for the estate who provided funding for the app.

"A lot of small communities have museums that have been placed for a long time, and they provide such a valuable resource to document the past of our communities, but at the same time we have to find new ways to engage young people. There's been a massive transformation in terms of the dominant mode of communication, the way that people talk and communicate all the time, and that's where museums and all that kind of cultural information needs to be present to, so I think the app helps to accomplish that."

Laura Briscoe
Laura Briscoe, TVDSB innovation coordinator tests out the app on June 15, 2021. (Brent Lale/CTV London)

The Thames Valley District School board (TVDSB) has approved the use of the app on all devices.

"I feel like I'm living in the future, I just tested it out and saw a train, and then I look in real life and it's not there," says Laura Briscoe, TVDSB innovation coordinator.

"Over the years, and specifically this year, students are seeing connections with like, there's history, there's trades there's technology, math, literacy and the poppy mural with the history connections. What we're trying to do is find things that students care about, listen and hear what those ideas are and bring them to life so students have been able to connect. We want students engaged in learning because they're excited they're passionate about it and something beyond just getting good mark."

Users can download the app here with the St. Thomas specific version available here