County of Elgin—The Elgin County Museum, in partnership with EXAR Studios, is launching an augmented reality (AR) adventure in St. Thomas on June 9th, 2021, as part of EXAR’s Engage app. Using a smartphone, users can uncover five different hidden AR attractions in St. Thomas that explore local culture and history.
Most people are familiar with AR technology through the popularity of Pokémon Go. With the Engage app’s St. Thomas adventure, AR technology is being used to learn about our own community. Users can walk to a particular location and use the app to scan the area, which will initiate the AR attraction. The attractions range from themed minigames to short history features, covering themes like the region’s railway history, mural artwork, and the veteran’s memorial. For a full explanation of the attractions, see the list in the following section.
The AR adventures are a great solo or small-group outdoor activity, meaning they’re possible to enjoy even with Covid-19 restrictions. The app is free to download and is suitable for all ages, although young children will need adult guidance. All of the attractions are within a 15-minute walk of each other, with the closest being only a few minutes apart.
The project is funded through a donation from the Estate of Donna Vera Evans Bushell. The use of novel AR technology will allow the museum to reach new and different audiences. The project also allows the museum to connect with the community during a time when they can’t visit our building.
The nature of the Engage AR means that it gets people out walking in their communities and paying attention to parts of their town or city that they might ordinarily walk past, which is a great avenue to becoming interested in our local history and culture. Hopefully some of the people who use the AR app will also be interested in coming to see in-person exhibits at the Elgin County Museum when it’s safe to do so. AR also allows people to get up close with things that can’t be displayed in a conventional museum exhibit—like the steam and electric trains in the train attraction, or the statue in the Willowsheen mural attraction.
EXAR Studios is a London, ON-based entertainment technology company dedicated to improving cities and communities. Engage Art is an augmented reality app showcasing local arts and culture through sustainable, smart tourism.
Daniel Kharlas, COO of EXAR Studios said, “The cutting edge augmented reality technology brings these vital stories to the people of St. Thomas in a way that is accessible and entertaining for the whole family. Whether you want to make a day out of it or just try one attraction while you’re out walking your dog, the beautiful, dynamic AR makes the perfect activity for summer break and beyond.”
The AR Attractions
The Magical Garden
Near the spectacular, colourful mural on the side of the St. Thomas Public library, users can ‘tend’ a virtual garden as an extension of the artwork in front of them.
Trains of the Railway City
By the train tracks in front of the Railway City Tourism train station on Talbot Street, users can get up close and personal with a life-sized steam locomotive in AR. Modelled after a train on display at the Elgin County Railway Museum, users learn about St. Thomas’ rail history, as well as the future of rail transportation.
Bringing the awe-inspiring Willowsheen mural to life in the alleyway just past the intersection of Moore and Talbot streets, users are able to walk through a portal and interact with a ball of energy to activate an extension of the mural.
St. Thomas Remembers
At the Veteran’s Memorial, amid a field of AR poppies, users can learn more about the local men and women who served in WWI and WWII by selecting their image to hear their letters read aloud.
To the west of the Joe Thornton Community Centre and Arena, users can celebrate our country’s national sport by playing an AR hockey minigame.