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Five free walking tours that will teach you about Vancouver's heritage

It’s Heritage Week in B.C., and what better way to learn about Vancouver’s past than by walking around in the sunshine forecast for this weekend. The Great Fire of Vancouver.

Residents can take a step back in time and gain knowledge about the city’s heritage with the help of a free historical tourism app called On This Spot.

The app, created by Vancouverites Andrew Farris, Sean Edmunds and Christopher Reid, offers users 11 walking tours in Vancouver and 600 then-and-now photo spots to check out.

It allows users to compare the old with the new through historic photo cross-fades, learn about the city’s local history and culture and appreciate long-gone architecture.

On This Spot have partnered with Heritage BC to promote this year’s Heritage Week theme ‘The Tie That Binds’ and is encouraging people to get out and learn a thing or two about where they’re from.

“As Canadians, we are fortunate to be able to freely celebrate our rich and diverse heritage,” says Edmunds, On This Spot’s chief operating officer.

“At On This Spot we believe there is great value in understanding history, and identifying with people of the past. It is only through knowledge of what came before that we can truly understand the society we live in today, and the possibilities for our future.

“This week, we encourage all Canadians to visit museums, historic sites and cultural centres, and connect with traditional knowledge keepers and educators.”

The group partners and works with archival, historical, heritage and business associations to gain access to photographs and information to bring the app's tours to life.

“We source photos from archival associations, like Vancouver Archives, and find the coordinates of the photo and replicate it now,” Edmunds says.

“Then, we’re able to edit the photos so they transition seamlessly between then and now.”

What’s really cool is the app even allows users to put themselves in the picture, using a built in camera.

“You follow the tours and the app will guide you to the spot that photo was taken in history and you can do a then-and-now cross fade off it and read about the history of the spot, but you can also take your own photo and cross fade the two,” Edmunds explains.

“People can put themselves into the history of the spot.”

To mark Heritage Week the creators have picked five of their favourite tours in Vancouver for you to check out:

Five heritage tours in Vancouver

The Guardian of English Bay – Joe Fortes

You might know about the restaurant but do you know the full story behind Vancouver's unlikely hero, Joe Fortes?

 The Lifeguard Joe Fortes. - On this Spot / City of Vancouver Archives The Lifeguard Joe Fortes. - On this Spot / City of Vancouver Archives

On this Spot tour description: “On Vancouver's centenary in 1986 the Vancouver Historical Society convened to select the Vancouverite of the Century. There was no shortage of great pioneers and politicians, innovators and reformers to choose from. Yet when the committee settled on a half-literate lifeguard from the Caribbean it came as a surprise to few. Seraphim "Joe" Fortes was the unlikeliest of heroes, yet his story symbolizes Vancouver at its best. Joe, the gentle giant, embodied the values of service, kindness and modesty that we hold in such high regard. In this tour we'll recount Joe's moving story and learn how he captured the hearts of a generation of Vancouverites.”

The tour features 10 then-and-now cross-fade photo spots.

Japantown: The Tragedy of Little Tokyo

How much do you know about the history of Japantown?

 A parade in Japantown. - On This Spot / City of Vancouver ArchivesA parade in Japantown. – On This Spot / City of Vancouver Archives

On this Spot tour description: “For Vancouver's first 50 years this neighbourhood was home to thousands of Japanese who immigrated to Canada. This tour shows the rise of Japantown, the lives of the Nikkei, the community they created and the challenges that they faced. You will see how the entire community suddenly disappeared, exiled to internment camps away from the coast. After the Second World War they were scattered across the country so that no comparable Japantown exists in Canada today.”

The tour features 13 then-and-now cross-fade photo spots.

Chinatown: Resilience in the Face of Adversity

If you just love Chinatown, check out this tour.

 Chinatown. - On This Spot / City of Vancouver ArchivesChinatown. – On This Spot / City of Vancouver Archives

On this Spot tour description: “Since Vancouver’s first days the Chinese have been here, forming an integral part of our society. Today we cherish this part of the city’s vibrant identity and find it difficult to conceive of a Vancouver without its Chinese influence, yet this was not always so. Chinatown exists today because of the struggles of thousands of immigrants who strove to make decent lives for themselves in an unwelcoming land.”

The tour features 15 then-and-now cross-fade photo spots.

The Great Fire of Vancouver – Gastown

Learn about the horrific day Vancouver was completely destroyed by a raging fire.

 The Great Fire of Vancouver. - On This Spot / City of Vancouver Archives The Great Fire of Vancouver. - On This Spot / City of Vancouver Archives

On this Spot tour description: “On a quiet Sunday in June 1886, the newly-incorporated city of Vancouver was completely destroyed. A raging fire, whipped up by relentless winds and fueled by tinder-dry conditions, swept through the city, consuming all but a handful of buildings and killing some 28 people. In this tour we will follow in the footsteps of people fleeing the raging inferno. We'll learn about life in Vancouver's pioneer days, hear the harrowing tales of the people who lived through the fire, and see how Vancouver recovered and prospered, laying the groundwork for the city we know today.

The tour features 13 then-and-now cross-fade photo spots.

Real Estate Speculation: A City Built on Property Values

This tour is for the real-estate enthusiasts. You’ll learn about the defining real-estate events in Vancouver history.

 Robson Street Houses. - On This Spot / City of Vancouver ArchivesRobson Street Houses. – On This Spot / City of Vancouver Archives

On this Spot tour description: “From the city's founding in 1886, Vancouverites have had an almost neurotic obsession with their property values. Many of the defining events in this city's early history, from the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the establishment of Stanley Park, to the city's layout and the name "Vancouver" itself, are all connected to the buying and selling of real estate.

The tour features 11 then-and-now cross-fade photo spots.

On This Spot will also be running a contest for who can do the best Then/Now rendition using the app camera editor and posting it on Instagram with the hashtags #BCHeritageWeek and #OnThisSpot. The best submission will receive $100 gift card to be used in our store on prints of their choosing.

Heritage Week runs from February 18 to 24 but that doesn’t mean you can’t check out the tours on the On This Spot app at a later date.

Find On This Spot on Instagram and Facebook.