The second in a series of mobile apps that track Canadian cities over time is now available from an online and mobile development company that itself stretches across the country’s digital history.
Toronto in Time is second in the Cities in Time series, which started with Vancouver in Time; both mobile apps had conceptual and technical development from 7th Floor Media at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC.
The iOS and Android apps let users explore each city’s history, as documented in text and photos. Stories and locations can be searched by theme or neighbourhood, and users can follow specially-curated trails. Although GPS-based location services are not featured in the app, there is a Map option to search and locate nearby sites and the content that goes with them.
For example, Toronto in Time highlights stories about a music club that hosted the Rolling Stones, U2, and Marilyn Monroe; it explores a site where soldiers from the War of 1812 lie buried, and it introduces a cast of characters that includes inventors, musicians, entrepreneurs, bank robbers, artists, visionaries and dreamers who all contributed to Toronto's history.
Vancouver’s app tells stories of the resident ghost of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Bloody Sunday clash in the Great Depression, the Babes in the Woods murders, and billionaire recluse Howard Hughes being holed up at the Bayshore Hotel.
Additional content can be user generated for both apps, and shared across social networks like Facebook and Twitter. There are plans to add more content to the app in the future, as well.
The concept for the apps came from James Marsh, Editor in Chief of The Canadian Encyclopedia, who explains he sought to make history interesting, accessible and relevant to the modern person, using mobile technology.
“The most appealing thing about history,” said Marsh, “is that it's all around us. There is history in street corners, and in parks, and old storefronts.”
To that end, developers at 7th Floor created a way to not only tie content to a specific location, but to show the location over time, by juxtaposing both old and new photographs from the site.
“Hopefully, people will understand the deep connection between place and history and see the journey that Toronto has taken over time,” Marsh added.
A dedicated photo researcher on the project helped source historical photos, and then newer shots were matched to the historical photos and taken by Marsh, who’s also an avid photographer. Both historical and modern photos were re-sized for continuity within the app, described Davina Choy, Community & Digital Media Coordinator at The Canadian Encyclopedia/ L'Encyclopédie canadienne.
Development company 7th Floor Media has its own historical context: it began life in 1987 as ExCITE (the Exemplary Centre for Interactive Technologies in Education), also called Canada's first multimedia R&D centre.
In 1993 – basically, as soon as the technology became available – a Web server was set up there, the first in Canada and one of the first in the world.
In 1999, the name was changed to 7th Floor Media. It’s done work for various cultural institutions and museums, as well as for leading media companies like the NFB and the CBC.
The Cities in Time apps and online companion sites are all part of a joint project between The Canadian Encyclopedia, the Historica-Dominion Institute, Museum Services of the City of Toronto, and Heritage Toronto.
Support for Toronto in Time came from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, and the federal Department of Canadian Heritage.