A year of digging through archives to collect 700 photos of the Rideau Canal for a slick app chronicling the waterway’s history has paid off for Carleton University history students as they won an award for their work.
“They even did the graphic design for it,” crowed James Opp, co-director of the centre for public history at the university, after the Rideau Timescapes app seized the public history prize from the Canadian Historical Association last week.
“What we tried to do was to see how historical narratives had changed,” said Opp, whose team of students collaborated with a technical group led by Anthony Whitehead, director of the school of information technology at Carleton, to assemble the app which zeroes in on the 26 lock stations that dot the canal from Kingston to Ottawa.
One of the main draws is a feature that pinpoints where archival photos from the canal locks were captured. It allows users to then augment reality using their smartphones to overlay those images over ones of the same site captured in the present day.
“I hope they’ll get a sense that your experience of place changes when you have other visual representations in front of you,” said Opp of what he wants users to take away. “The landscape around the canal has changed. In a sense, it’s a much greener space than it used to be.”
Ottawa’s railway tracks used to run alongside the canal until the 1960s, and many images from within the city show a more industrial side to life on the canal than the recreational uses of running, cycling, canoeing and pleasure boating that we’ve come to expect.
“What we tried to do was to see how historical narratives had changed,” Opp said, pointing out most of the photos come from a time 50 years after the locks were completed in 1832.
Opp said that future versions of the app will see his students include more details about the stories behind the locks and he hopes to give the same treatment to other Ottawa landmarks.
“A place like Parliament Hill might be a place where you could do some very interesting things,” he said. “All along, when we designed this project, it was with a mind to take it to different geographical areas.”