Interactive HRC Website Redefines Our Heritage Sites

Monday, July 9, 2012

Explore Canada’s most interesting buildings, or submit your own to a growing 700+ database

Red covered bridge stretching over a river

The "Kissing Bridge" in West Montrose, Ontario is the last of its kind.

Every building has a story to tell, and while not every beautiful old structure qualifies as an official heritage landmark, a new project by the Heritage Resource Centre in the Faculty of Environment allows all Canadians the chance to hear those stories by admiring and honouring unique historical buildings online.

Building Stories, a (cleverly-named) interactive website currently hosts a catalog of more than 700 properties across the country which can be viewed using a Google map embedded into the site. With locations as remote as a long-abandoned Inuit campsite in Nunavut, to more familiar sites like Failte pub in Uptown Waterloo, all you have to do is find your community of interest and scroll through user-provided content and photos of a range of local structures from commercial to residential, industrial, and beyond.

Registered site visitors can contribute buildings they think have historic value, and post documents, old photos, stories and videos to tell an enriched story. Each contributed building is accompanied by easy to read background information and a comments section where site visitors can discuss the building and its historical significance. A wide variety of structures are already featured, including residential homes, mines, factories, churches. A handful of entries don’t even have a structure on them at all. For instance, a small unassuming park at the corner of King St. and William St. in Waterloo, Ontario is listed as once being the local pig market.

Kayla Jonas, a part-time graduate student and full-time employee at the Heritage Resource Centre has worked on the site from its inception; she’s also the current editor. “I hope that Building Stories will encourage more people to be engaged in recognizing and documenting their local heritage,” she says. “That volunteer time can be leveraged to increase the amount of information accessible to the public. Also, Canada's diverse heritage resources can be better recognized.” Thanks to a mobile app (on Blackberry Torch, iPhone and Android), Building Stories also functions as a handheld tour guide so those interested in historic properties can easily recognize sites during an ad hoc walking tour, or view pre-designed tours.

Jonas has also noticed that more and more official community groups are actively using the site to document their historic sites – a trend that has already paid off for one community. “The most interesting are the buildings that have been added from Goderich, Ontario which were damaged in the tornado and are now demolished. The entries are a record of what was.”

Registering on Building Stories is free and easy to use. Interested civilian historians can sign up here.

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