On This Spot makes a present of the past

To the pile of apps that count your steps moving forward, here’s one that actually celebrates taking you backward.  

In time. In Edmonton.

“The app shows the user how things have changed and how parts of Edmonton look now compared to what they used to look like,” said Robert Geldart, the City of Edmonton’s Senior Heritage Planner.

“It feels quite futuristic to have a time machine in the palm of your hand.” 

The app is called On This Spot. It features 200 photos of sites and buildings in Edmonton, then and now. The app includes two walking tours—the John Walter Museum and the early history of Strathcona. 

A cool “Then and Now” feature allows users to click on a pin and transition between a digitized photo of the past and an exact re-creation of the point of view on that spot.

For instance, look south down 102 Ave downtown and watch it dissolve into the scene on this spot in 1915, when the Royal George Hotel was a thing and soldiers were on parade.

Stand on 102 Ave looking west across the Groat Ravine Bridge and watch 68 years disappear with the touch of a button.

Or keep your eye on the Legislature dome and the High Level Bridge as they looked in 1913, and take in everything that has changed around them.

It’s popular. 

Since the Edmonton launch on July 26, there have been 5,400 downloads, a pace of pickup faster than any other city.

The City of Edmonton partnered with the app’s developers, Andrew Farris and Christopher Reid, on the project. Edmonton is the 15th city to be mapped and apped out since Vancouver debuted in 2016.

“Whenever you use the app, whether on a walking tour or looking at a spot, you’re standing in the footprints of a photographer from 50 or 100 years ago,” said Farris.

For Geldart, the app’s popularity is more proof of the love Edmontonians have for the history of their built city, especially the history that is, in some cases, well, history.

“I think we have to celebrate what we do have and what we have left,” he said.

“It’s critical to maintaining our heritage and for Edmontonians to understand that we do have a history and that this city didn’t pop up overnight, and it took 100 years to get where we are today.”

Twenty years ago, Edmonton had 20 designated historic sites, said Geldart. Now there are 154 protected historic buildings.

The photographs used in On This Spot came the City of Edmonton Archives and the Provincial Archives of Alberta. 

Here’s a little more about the On This Spot app.

Dig into more of Edmonton’s past with historic walking tour brochures of Downtown, Highlands, Strathcona and Oliver.