Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Ever since coming late to the smartphone party in early 2012, I've been amazed at the number of good heritage architecture apps out there, and that's to say nothing of all the great websites that haven't yet found the time to turn themselves into an app.

The problem is, the more sites or apps about a particular subject, the less I'm inclined to use any of them; it's tough finding a good restaurant when you've got to first decide which of a dozen review sites to consult.

When it comes to architecture, however, the good folks at the University of Waterloo's Heritage Resources Centre (HRC) may have come up with a way to combat the web-clutter.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's kind of hard for the general public to find information," agrees Kayla Jonas Galvin, 27, project manager of a "comprehensive" and cross-Canada website, Building Stories, which launched quietly in April. "If you want to find information about a building in Toronto, there are a number of places you could go, but you have to know about them."

So, she and HRC director Dr. Robert Shipley hope that www.buildingstories.co (yes, that's ".co" and not ".com") will become "a place for everyone to put all those different inventories, those different images, in one space."

And they mean everyone: Although the HRC and their partners, Waterloo's Centre for Community Mapping and the Computer Systems Group, use proprietary software, Building Stories operates much like Wikipedia, meaning any grassroots group can add a walking tour they've created—whether self-guided or date-specific—and any individual can add a few of his or her favourite heritage buildings.

For instance, a visitor to Toronto from Newfoundland could use the site to find a bunch of heritage houses she'd like to photograph. Then, if she snaps a photo that highlights a neat architectural feature on one of them, she can add it to the listing if it's not there already. Or, if she finds a house in the same neighbourhood that isn't represented at all, she can add it herself. "It's an active process" that harnesses the power of "crowd-sourcing," explains Ms. Jonas Galvin.

"Traditionally, experts are who we turn to when we think about heritage, but we have a lot of volunteers in the heritage field and we wanted to be able to leverage their knowledge."

To that end, the team was careful to make Building Stories user friendly, even for individuals with rudimentary computer skills. While the ability to add a "significant amount" of information on a heritage property exists, there are only a few blank fields that need to be filled in to create a new entry.

There are also "hints" to help new users "think about things they might not have thought about," such as which official Parks Canada icons to plunk down alongside their listing. By doing this, she adds, "they're learning in the process."

Story continues below advertisement

And if problems are encountered, the site has a very good frequently asked questions section that covers basics such as how to join, how to add an avatar or how to search content, all the way to more advanced procedures, such as how to upload a photograph of a building, add its Statement of Significance, or list a walking tour. As an example of how easy the process was, it took me just a few minutes to join Building Stories, an additional five minutes to add a link to the self-guided Don Mills "iTour" I prepared for Heritage Toronto back in 2010, and a wait of about 24 hours to see it appear on the site after gaining approval.

Currently, there are fewer than 1,000 properties listed, and only a few trickling in each day. To quicken the pace, Ms. Jonas Galvin and Dr. Shipley are attending conferences across the country, hosting workshops, and sending out e-blasts to encourage heritage groups and municipal governments to upload their entire registers. While it's free to join and start participating right away, governments or groups that are short-staffed can enlist the HRC to do the work as a "fee-for-service." This, it is hoped, will dilute the current Ontario-centric nature of the site, which is the result of beta testing with municipal groups the HRC has long-standing relationships with, such as Seaforth, Halton Hills and Goderich.

In future, it's possible related sites, such as Robert G. Hill's excellent Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, can be intertwined with Building Stories to make it a true one-stop shop. "We do have a grant application to expand the functionality of the site to include narratives such as that," says Ms. Jonas Galvin.

The possibilities, it seems, are endless, provided all of us in the heritage community – and that includes laypeople – work toward making it so, since, on the Internet, static creatures quickly lose relevance while creatures that constantly grow and add new layers thrive.

"I think the mobile app is going to be what really makes people interested," says Ms. Jonas Galvin, "because people want to explore their cities, they want to explore places that they're going to visit and they'll want to come home and add sites to it."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies