A dynamic digital initiative that showcases technology’s ability to offer new perspectives on history

Heritage Passages: Bytown and The Rideau Canal

bv02 has a long history of collaborating with our partners to make culture accessible online, so when the Bytown Museum and Carleton University came to us with a new web initiative that would present the history of the building of the Rideau Canal, we were thrilled to take part. Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal joins innovative 3D architectural modelling, archival records, material history, and an augmented-reality mobile application, to document the political origins, construction, and early influence of Ottawa’s Rideau Canal and create a compelling web-based tour of this World Heritage site.

Funded by the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC), Heritage Passages was conceived as an online exhibition and research portal that would offer the most comprehensive picture to date of the early days of Bytown and the genesis of the Rideau canal. With records on the canal’s development dispersed amongst institutions across Canada and the UK, this was no ordinary feat, and much research was done by Carleton’s team to make documents accessible through this project. At the same time, the Carleton Immersive Media Studio (CIMS) was synthesizing incredible 3D models of Bytown’s urban environment from terrestrial laser scanning and on-site measurements, original land surveys and engineering drawings, and other archival material. The Bytown Museum contributed original artefacts and research from its collections to the exhibition to present the material history of these early days.

bv02’s challenge was to bring these partners together and seamlessly combine their technically diverse, multi-media contributions on a unified digital platform. This was accomplished by conceptualizing the website as an interactive storyteller, with an information architecture and interface organized around themes. Visitors enter the Heritage Passages site via the primary theme of location, exploring the different neighbourhoods that made up the city through specific points on a map of Bytown. When activated, these points expand into lightboxes with varying multi-media displays, such as video with 3D animations of street scenes, or photographs of artefacts. All are supported by detailed and rigorously documented text that presents their historical context. Visitors can also dive into the content from multiple other points of entry with such themes as Architecture, Military, Disease and Community. Because he/she is guided by themes, rather than chronology, the story that unfolds through the website user’s journey is multi-faceted rather than linear, and reflects the complexity of the history of this period.

For educators and researchers, the website also becomes a portal to academic learning, guiding these audiences from the secondary navigation on the homepage to their own sections of the site. There, teachers find downloadable modules that provide opportunities for learning about research techniques. Researchers can search for and download archival material from the exhibition using access points associated with the themes from the main site, or by medium. Many of these documents have been digitized and published here for the first time.

Finally, bv02 integrated with the site an augmented reality experience for those visitors physically at the site of the Rideau Canal. This browser-based mobile application was designed by Carleton’s Hyperlab research centre to put the user in context while visiting the Ottawa locks. It responds to the user’s location and pattern of movement along the canal site, offering a personal guided tour of the exhibition’s digital archives and reconstructions, and providing visitors with a first-hand appreciation of how the area’s landscape and social impact have changed over time.

With its thematic storytelling, beautiful imagery and cutting-edge 3D modelling, augmented-reality application and access to archives and learning materials, Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal provides a deeper understanding of the role the canal played in the formation of Bytown and Canada as a country. The bv02 team was excited to bring their technical expertise to bear on integrating these diverse components, creating a dynamic digital initiative that showcases technology’s ability to offer new perspectives on history and engage visitors in innovative ways.

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