On April 30, 2012, a new website and mobile application was launched that enables Canadians to take a direct role in identifying important community heritage assets. Building Stories (www.buildingstories.co) is an incredible new on-line resource making thousands of original documents, photos and historical records available online from a wide variety of communities.
The development of Building Stories adds significantly to the tools available to engage the public, explains the importance of heritage and builds community confidence. The tools in Building Stories can help communities identify properties to place on municipal registers, to identify areas as Heritage Conservation Districts and to expand the volunteer base of the conservation movement. Dr. Robert Shipley, Director of the Heritage Resources Centre, states: “Through being able to use the inventory tool in a web-based and interactive way, it will allow communities and individual citizens to take a direct and active role in identifying the significant and valued structures that make up such a vital part of the country’s heritage assets. There has never been anything like this and the result will be to magnify and expand both interest in, and understanding of our built environment.”
Sites added to the Building Stories inventory are mapped and require an address and at least one photo. Users can then add additional commentary about the history, design and context of the property. Entire Statements of Significance can be added if available. In addition, documentation such as photographs, audio files, video files or copies of important documents (e.g. drawings, leases) can be uploaded. Characteristics of specific buildings may be entered using the recognized Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings Iconography depicting simple pictures of architectural and/or design features. Tours of heritage buildings can be created by selecting properties and can be shared with the community at large.
These sites can be accessed through a mobile application available for Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones. Users will be able to select a tour of a desired destination using the mobile application, such as walking or driving tours and special events tours, such as Doors Open. In addition, the mobile application will allow the capture of a site with a picture and GPS coordinates, while additional details can be filled in online.
Currently, the website includes entries from every province and territory in Canada. However, Building Stories will continue to grow into new communities, as new collections and archives are added to the fully searchable database, and as individuals comment on existing listings and contribute their own sites with stories, memories, digital artifacts, and photographs.
Many different groups can use the site: volunteers and heritage supporters can identify and record sites of value to them; tourists visiting Canada can search sites and tours and are invited to provide digital photos; professionals and academics can add sites from their projects and use the website for research.
An impressive number and variety of communities have contributed to the development of Building Stories including: Town of Goderich, Municipality of Huron East, Doors Open Huron County 2012, Town of Grimsby, City of Brampton, City of Kingston, City of Hamilton, Town of Halton Hills, and the Town of St. Marys.
Building Stories was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canada Interactive Fund and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports’ Cultural Strategic Investment Fund.
Building Stories is a partnership between the University of Waterloo’s Heritage Resources Centre and the Computer Systems Group, both at the University of Waterloo and the Centre for Community Mapping (COMAP). The mission of the Heritage Resources Centre (HRC) is to promote a better understanding of natural and human heritage for the improvement of planning management and public policy through research, education, and extension work.
COMAP, a Canadian non-profit, is dedicated to research development and deployment of information and communications technology to strengthen the role of civil society in Canada. The Computer Systems Group (CSG) is a research group that specializes in document and software engineering, and software design and implementation.