New app brings fun and history to local outdoor attractions
ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- It’s an app that will allow you to see the past of Southwestern Ontario in a futuristic way, and a new donation means even more local tourist spots will be featured.
Called “Engage,” the augmented reality (AR) app will use the same technology as Pokémon Go to bring destinations to life.
"Pokemon GO did an amazing thing gamifying people," says Daniel Kharles, chief operating officer of London, Ont.-based Exar Studios.
"It brought people outside and exploring neighbourhoods. We are using same technology with a local edge on it to showcase stories about your neighbourhood, your region, your city."
The app, created by Exar, will launch a London version in a couple of weeks.
It was funded by a $100,000 donation from Tourism London.
The Donna Evans Bushell estate has now contributed money which will allow St. Thomas and Port Stanley to be included by the spring of 2021.
"We wanted to come up with a way to connect history and culture in the hands of students and eveyrone through their phones," says Andrew Gunn, a consultant for the Bushell estate.
A $425,000 contribution from the estate will help with a number of Elgin County Museum (ECM) projects. Some of them will include buying more Jumbo memorabilia, adding an outdoor classroom space, and putting murals and signs along cycling trails in Elgin County.
It will also create two new positions at the ECM.
One will be to digitize the archives, and the other will be generating content for the app.
"It releases our hidden treasures," says Mike Baker, curator of ECM."It gives them to a group of people who may not realize it's there or aren't in the habit of finding them."
With less young people going into museums, Baker feels this is a way to bring more attention to this history of Elgin County.
"If they see our name attached to it, they might think to come here. It's audience development and getting our message out there."
Here’s an example of how it works.
You show up to visit the Jumbo the Elephant statue in St. Thomas. Open the app and point the phone's camera at the elephant.
Virtually, you would also see the history of Jumbo, an actual tusk side by side with the statue and historical facts.
"Or crazy ideas like talking to Jumbo to see what he has to say," says Kharles. "There is a lot of interactivity we can play around with in AR."
Also during COVID-19 when people are uncomfortable going inside, it allows for a safe way to get a historical tour.
"We have a lot of interesting stories in St. Thomas and Port Stanley,” says Gunn. "You can look at railway history, the elevated park, and old buildings like the courthouse and St. Thomas church. We also have so many new murals going into downtown. What the app allows you to do is look at them and things inside them can be activated, come to life and things can move."
There will also be a game component which will allow you to score points by visiting multiple locations.
Eventually the Exar team would love to see teachers and students have the app for education and fun field trips.
"We would love that - to be able to see young people and teachers to use it to see how it fuses with education," says Kharles."That would be a dream."