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November’s App of the Month: Explore Peel - An Interactive Timeline

How do you engage your audience in history? Read how the Region of Peel, in collaboration with the Peel Art Gallery Museum + Archives (PAMA), used Esri Story Maps to deliver a rich learning experience about the Region’s history.

I just want to start off by saying, I love history. At one point in my life, I considered becoming a geography or history teacher. However, studying for history class was not easy; reading a textbook was like asking for a nap. I would always find alternative ways to absorb the subject material. Even if that meant binge watching the TV series Rome for my History of Western World I class.

While our November App of the Month is not a TV show or a movie, it delivers an excellent history lesson through Explore Peel: An Interactive Timeline, a story map by the Region of Peel and the Peel Art Gallery Museum + Archives (PAMA). It uses historic photos and archived maps and records to narrate how Peel Region came to be home to so many today.

Peel Region, which is less than an hour’s drive from the City of Toronto, has seen tremendous growth. From a population of 27,000 in 1867, Peel is now home to over 1.4 million people who speak over 160 languages. And the Region continues to grow. By 2042, Peel Region is expected to be home to two million people.

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017 as well as the formation of Peel Region, the Region decided to share its story of growth using Esri Story Maps. They used the Story Map Journal template to compile archived materials provided by PAMA into a compelling interactive story.

Asked why they used Story Maps, Nitika Arora, a data analysis and outreach specialist for Peel Region, says, “Using Esri Story Maps was easy; it was a great way to show a mix of images, maps and text while keeping it simple for our end users to navigate. The out-of-the-box tools also helped us get everything up and running quickly, which generated enthusiasm for the project.”

Peel’s story map consists of narrative text, maps, images and 3D scenes. What makes it interactive and engaging is the Region’s effective use of Story Actions, which are links embedded in the story map that reveal more information in a natural way so readers can get more out of the story. Using Story Actions in this story map enabled Peel to use more of the multimedia content they had. It also enhances the interactive experience for users.

Story Actions: Clicking on hyperlinked text on the left panel changes the visual content on the right or main panel, engaging users to learn more about Peel Region’s history.

The story map features a 3D scene that provides a more interactive and interesting representation of Peel residents’ countries of origin.

To emphasize the growth and diversity of Peel Region, Nitika and her team used a historical paper map that was scanned and georeferenced with the Geographic Lot Fabric and Geographic Township. They incorporated many of the other paper maps contributed by PAMA into the story map hosted on their server. Another way of presenting these maps is to embed a Story Map Spyglass that compares a current map of Peel Region with a historical, georeferenced paper map.

Paper maps were scanned and georeferenced for users to explore digitally.

Story Map templates are open source and offer you the flexibility to do any customization you want and host the resulting story maps on your server. That is what Peel has done here. They wanted to use their organizational domain, so you’ll notice that the URL for their story map begins with “”, not “” as story maps hosted on Esri’s cloud normally do.

Many organizations have hosted their story maps on their servers, not only to use their own domain in the story map URL but also to customize the appearance of their story maps to be consistent with their brand. While it’s not that complicated to host story maps on your server, it takes some development skills. Check out these resources for customizing story maps.

When asked about lessons learned while creating this app, Nitika shares this tip: “Make sure that you’re using Story Maps not just as a tool to provide a series of unconnected maps or content, you should have a strong narrative—a compelling story to tell.”

Ever since Peel’s story map was published, they’ve received numerous requests to use Story Maps in support of various digital learning initiatives. Talks are in progress to potentially use it in schools to create more learning resources which appeal to all ages. Coming full circle, it would have been great to use Story Maps back when I was in school; history class would’ve been a lot different for me and who knows, I might’ve even become a history teacher!

If you’re still thinking twice about using Story Maps, read this blog post: Things you didn't know you could do with Story Maps

About the Author

Mingsze Ho is a GIS Analyst for Esri Canada. Fascinated with displaying data in a spatial way, she focuses on generating story maps and other applications using Esri technology. She discovered her passion for maps when she started colouring and drawing maps in elementary school, and she was determined to become a cartographer. Mingsze loves how a map can illustrate the ways that certain features or phenomena affect human lives. While obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, she realized the world had moved on to digital maps. She was heartbroken initially, until she discovered the power of GIS and how it can be used to leverage both art and data to create beautiful, interactive maps. In her free time, Mingsze continues to draw maps. She just really likes maps.

Profile Photo of Mingsze Ho