A view across Victoria’s harbour is split by more than 100 years on the OnThisSpot app. The app gives users the historical knowledge and imagery they need to be transported back in time. (Victoria Archives AC1-M06964 & On This Spot Enterprises)

History app uses ‘then and now’ photographs of Victoria

OnThisSpot provides historical insight of Canadian cities

A Vancouver-based app provides on scene insight into the history of Canadian cities, including Victoria.

OnThisSpot takes users on guided walking tours, using ‘then and now’ photography and historical information on various street corners, monuments or landmarks. Working with heritage and tourism organizations, the app gives users an on-site glimpse at an otherwise unseen history.

Co-founder and CEO Andrew Farris, who graduated from the University of Victoria’s history program, says he started the idea with a blog while travelling through Asia and Europe. The blog was so popular he brought the concept back to Canada. Now, the OnThisSpot website and app features history and walking tours in more than 20 Canadian cities.

“When you’re looking at photographs of a historical event, seeing the people, seeing the buildings that are gone, you can see how society has evolved over time, what the trends are and how things like fashion and architecture have changed,” Farris said.

READ ALSO: Parents advocate for change of George Jay Elementary name, citing racist history

The app’s website features cross-faded images combining Victoria’s past and present – in one photo, a modern-day SUV drives off a street that fades into a sepia photograph of a horse and buggy-filled roadway, bustling with Victorians of more than a century ago.

In another image, shot down Johnson Street from Douglas, the corner’s Burger King fades into the black and white ramshackle structures of old Victoria.

The app’s Victoria walking tour, The Peopling of Victoria, tells the story of the city before and after the establishment of the Fort Victoria trading post, taking users along a journey that starts with the camas meadows of the Lekwungen people to the arrival of English settlers, the impacts of the BC Gold Rush, the establishment of Chinatown and more.

“It’s really easy to feel separated from history … a lot of people have the assumption there’s very little history in Canada,” Farris said.

“But these photographs can transport you back in time to see that everywhere has a history. That the people of the past had lives, fear, concerns and dreams just like we do.”

Outside of B.C., the app has partnered with cities in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

The app is free and can be downloaded on any smartphone.

READ ALSO: Black History Month: Documentary sheds light on black pioneers’ role in Victoria


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