November’s App of the Month: City of Guelph’s 100 Years of “In Flanders Fields” Story Map

November 1, 2016 Jasmine Sohal

In 2015, the City of Guelph, in collaboration with Guelph Museums, launched a story map to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the writing of John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields. Now, a year later since its release, we revisit the story map to see how it has helped commemorate the life of Canada’s famous soldier and poet.

As May 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields,” the City of Guelph planned to ensure that they were ready to commemorate the life of the famous Canadian soldier, poet and doctor. An interdepartmental effort among Guelph Museums staff, GIS analysts and information technology professionals resulted in the creation of an insightful story map that traces the history of John McCrae’s life as well as the events that inspired the poem.

The story map was created using the Story Map Journal template. This is the ideal template to use when you want to combine narrative text with maps and other embedded multimedia content. The template was a perfect fit for the City of Guelph as they wanted to take their audience on a spatial and multimedia journey.

Caption text, to describe the image. The 100 Years of In Flanders Field story map by the City of Guelph has received over 15,000 views since its launch in 2015.

Scrolling through the various sections of this story map, you can easily tell that the City went through a great deal of planning the content of the map and paid much attention to detail to make sure the result will be compelling.

While there are many story maps available for you to view on ArcGIS Online, not all of them are created equal. There are key features that make a story map effective, and this story map in particular has a number of these features. Let’s take a closer look at what sets it apart as a great story map.

Adding Hyperlinks

As you scroll through the various sections, you’ll notice that this story map includes just the right number of hyperlinks to additional content. Hyperlinks are a great way to provide your audience with relevant information outside of your application. Putting too much text in each section of your story map may cause your readers to lose interest and prevent them from getting the message you’re trying to convey. Linking to external sources enables you to make your content concise. It also keeps your audience engaged by giving them something to click on to discover more information.

One tip, however, is to make sure you don’t have too many hyperlinks – one or two per section is fine. Having too many external links can lead to your audience spending more time exploring the additional content, rather than your own.

Branding and Styling

By default, a number of story map templates, including the story map journal template, feature Esri’s logo and include links to Esri’s website. Since the City authored the story map themselves, changing the logo to Guelph Museums’ logo and linking to their website helps promote the museum and increase brand awareness. As well, it adds authority to the map journal.

Within the side panel, the text is styled in various fonts that make the story map look more appealing. For example, quotes are separated from the narrative text by using smaller font and italics. In addition, the white font used against the black background provides a great contrast, which makes the text easy to read.

Use of Multimedia

The Story Map Journal template enables users to create great storytelling apps with multimedia content, and this story map definitely took advantage of that. This story map includes a variety of high-quality historical maps, photos and documentary films from the National Film Board of Canada. It also features original, archived journals and sketches by John McCrae.

Main Stage Actions

As you explore the narrative content on the side panel, you’ll notice that there’s quite a number of things that occur on the story map’s “main stage”. Main stage actions are configured from the side panel to interact with the map on the main stage. These actions can include displaying a map, image, video, web page and even another application or story map. These help readers further interact with the map and access more information without leaving the story map. For example, the second section’s main stage was configured to display an aerial imagery map of the City of Guelph that shows John McCrae’s birthplace.

Simple Maps and Configured Pop-ups

One of my favourite aspects of this story map is the simplicity of its maps. As the maps provide geographical context for the narrative content, it’s important that they don’t overshadow the important information the story map conveys. Defining what you want your audience to focus on will determine the complexity of your maps. If you want your audience to focus more on your narrative content, use simple maps. If you want your maps to be the focus, then keep your side panel content brief and simple.

Pop-ups provide quick information for readers to view when they’re exploring the map. It’s important to configure your pop-ups with the data you want to display as these provide context for your map. Pop-ups that are not configured will display a bunch of attributes that your audience may not understand.


I remember learning about ‘In Flanders Fields’ when I was in grade school and always loved reciting it during our Remembrance Day ceremonies. This story map goes on another level to provide more insightful information about the man behind the famous poem. I encourage you to explore this story map – it will inspire you to create compelling stories of your own.

About the Author

Jasmine Sohal

Jasmine Sohal is a GIS Analyst for Esri Canada, holding an Honours Bachelor of Science degree from McMaster University and a post-graduate GIS Applications Specialist certificate from Sir Sandford Fleming College. As a kid, Jasmine refrained from going to new places until she drew a map of how she would get from Point A to Point B. After taking her first Introduction to GIS course at McMaster University, Jasmine knew right away where her passion lay. Now, as a self-proclaimed Geogeek, she is always inspired to visualize situations spatially and applies GIS anywhere she can. In her spare time, Jasmine is a discoverer; for good hiking trails and restaurants, that is. She is always going out to discover beautiful landscapes during her hiking adventures around the province. Off the trails, you can find her discovering new restaurants to dine at. With her open mind and willingness to adapt and learn, Jasmine is excited to see what her future in GIS holds for her.

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