MAPANNAPOLIS: Engaging the Community in Heritage Mapping

June 6, 2018

Heritage assets are complex: they are tangible resources with an intangible significance, and they range from historical to artistic including technological, environmental and geophysical assets. Governments and communities are looking for ways to manage these assets. Find out how ArcGIS helps create new possibilities for shared asset management in a Nova Scotia community.

Fort Anne National Historic Site (Parks Canada)

Every town or city has heritage waiting to be explored; however, it’s not always easy. Not everything is talked about in travel guides or tourism websites, and not everyone knows the history of the city they live or work in. Governments and non-profit organizations around the world are increasingly recognizing the value of heritage assets – for they preserve human history and offer economic opportunities — and thus, they are investing more and more into preserving these assets.

Heritage assets are complex: they are tangible resources with an intangible significance, and they range from historical to artistic including technological, environmental and geophysical assets. While it can be difficult to assign an accurate monetary value to them, their maintenance, however, can be costly and their lifespan measured in centuries. Many times, such assets are the last on a government's priority list. That’s why community-driven asset mapping can go a long way in maintaining or restoring the local, national and tourist value of heritage assets.

The Age Advantage Association’s (AAA) Annapolis Community Mapping project is an example. In 2017, its MAPANNAPOLIS project was named one of the finalists for the Governor General’s History Awards for Excellence in Community Programming.

The AAA conceived the idea of promoting and facilitating a community-based online mapping project of all heritage assets in Annapolis County back in 2011. The project aimed to bring volunteers interested in mapping areas of interest in their communities together with students and instructors who had the technical expertise.

The AAA joined hands with the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) in Lawrencetown to begin a pilot of the project, which would complement the hundreds of conventional paper maps its volunteers used. While the web-mapping plan was tabled in 2012, it progressed into a formal association only in 2013, when Ed Symons, a faculty member at the Geomatics department, launched a student education project.

MAPANNAPOLIS was well-aligned with COGS’ goals. As Canada's largest geomatics-focused learning environment, the College works to connect and form lasting relationships with local community members. Its faculty encourages participatory GIS, social empowerment and civic engagement among its students through projects and initiatives.

Symons has always been eager to help reveal the information that usually goes unnoticed in many community planning map layers. He believes that local knowledge can be pivotal in conveying the essence of a community.

“I’m interested in capturing local knowledge that truly characterizes the rich sense of a place. This is information that only those who have inhabited it for a sufficient duration could share with you,” explains Symons.

As part of the AAA’s mandate to create a growing cadre of local mapping trainers in the ongoing, expanding collaboration between NSCC and COGS, MAPANNAPOLIS gave students the opportunity to work with community members and apply their GIS skills in a real-world setting. The students used ArcGIS technology for the project. They presented the data provided by the AAA volunteers on a web map using ArcGIS Online


Survey students from COGS working with MAPANNAPOLIS volunteer Wilfred Allan

COGS graduate Katie Chute getting information from visitors. (Image courtesy of the Chronicle Herald)

Mapping local pride

Emphasizing upon the inherent value of asset management, Heather LeBlanc, MAPANNAPOLIS project designer, says: “I feel strongly that if you don’t know the assets of your community, how can you plan?”

The belief that residents have an intimate and expert knowledge of their environment is what drives the community mapping project. “Since the project is community-driven, it doesn’t have the burden of having government or organization restrictions,” notes LeBlanc.

“While any heritage asset can be mapped, those that are of community interest include heritage homes, trails, bikes, canoe routes and galleries. The community map reveals the area’s rich cultural layers by sharing each contributor’s memories. The residents' ability to connect to these heritage assets is not only beneficial to them but also to any visitor who wants to access the county’s untapped potential and local pride,” she continues.

LeBlanc is ecstatic about the response from stakeholders – both from government and community members alike. She is very pleased at how various communities from the area have contributed in creating the map.

The Annapolis Royal and Area Amenities/Heritage map invites locals and visitors to discover the many different attractions all around the area, including the North Hills Museum pictured above.

The map, which uses the Story Map Shortlist template in ArcGIS Online, includes information on hundreds of heritage homes and structures, as well as businesses, churches and cemeteries, and recreational sites – complete with pictures and short histories. It also maps the 41 wharves of Annapolis County, of which only two are still intact.

In addition, the students have also worked on nearly a dozen other heritage community mapping projects – from soldiers who served in the First World War, to the history of Bear River, to Black Loyalist communities and Acadian settlements. They are also working on a project in partnership with Parks Canada to develop a detailed history of those buried with identifiable markers in the Garrison Graveyard on the Historic Fort Anne site, in Annapolis Royal.

Defining success

While they’re still determining success metrics, Symons estimates that MAPANNAPOLIS has already mapped more than 2,500 heritage assets. Moreover, volunteers have been able to compile information on 300 local amenities, dozens of trails, 600 local dining establishments and over 400 local cultural (non-heritage) assets. Encouraged by the ease of use of ArcGIS, they are adding up to 500 unique local assets annually. Next steps include developing a set of qualitative and quantitative indicators to find out if these assets are being managed any better, generating more awareness or receiving increased funding since the launch of MAPANNAPOLIS. With almost 80 unique weekly visitors to their website, the team is busy updating their collection of community maps.

Round Hill Map of Heritage Properties unveiled to the community. 

The education project has allowed the students to discover a deeper sense of place. It has awakened a joint sense of ownership of the assets among the students and the community members who worked together on collecting the data for the heritage sites. The project has also increased collaboration and camaraderie among them; the community mapping sessions held at municipal halls, high-school classrooms and church halls are always filled with laughter and storytelling.

The recent recognition by the Canadian Historical Association is icing on the cake. “Being shortlisted for the coveted Governor General’s History Award validates what we do. It’s recognition of thousands of volunteer hours the AAA, COGS and Esri Canada put in,” adds LeBlanc.

Looking to the future

MAPANNAPOLIS has generated a lot of interest from outside the region. In the future, the team plans to work with archaeologists in surveying 70 acres of land to search for an Acadian settlement suspected to be in Round Hill – 10 kilometres east of Annapolis Royal. The team also wants to add more GIS layers to the existing community map and extend the already exhaustive map to show underground assets. As well, they have invited the Mi’kmaq community to share their stories through these maps. They do not expect this to be a difficult task as community volunteers are now able to use ArcGIS software without the help of the COGS students who previously spent hours training them.

Meanwhile at COGS, the students are eager to explore Nova Scotia’s food and culture sectors, which are significant to the rural fabric of the area. The goal is to help build a more robust local food sector and assess the cultural sector’s current state.

Symons and his students expect to continue leveraging ArcGIS Online’s ability to facilitate collaboration among people with no previous GIS experience. Already, they are learning to build and customize more engaging maps and apps using the ArcGIS API for JavaScript. In addition to using ArcGIS Desktop to edit features and create maps, they also look forward to exploring Esri templates for creating crowdsource and field apps.

With the success of MAPANNAPOLIS, the possibilities for applying community mapping seem endless. As LeBlanc puts it, she hopes that the project becomes a blueprint for the future –  for building meaningful partnerships towards shared asset management in their community as well as in others. 

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of ArcNorth News.

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