Andrew from the new On This Spot app chats with us about the app, his favourite points of comparison, and a bit of Nanaimo’s history.

Can you tell us a bit about On This Spot? What do people need to know?

The On This Spot app takes people on guided walking tours through the history that surrounds them. At each stop on their journey users will find themselves standing on the spot a historic photo was taken. They can view a then and now photo comparison, use the built in camera to create their own, and read about Nanaimo’s history and how it ties into the broader human experience.

With 400 photo opportunities and six walking tours across downtown Nanaimo, Newcastle Island and Departure Bay, anyone with a smartphone can peel back the years in an unprecedented new way and discover how the city has evolved over 170 tumultuous years.

What are you most excited about for the app?

We are most excited about the gigantic amount of Nanaimo history available in the app. 400 historic photos from the collections of the Nanaimo Community Archives and the Nanaimo Museum have been carefully mapped out and rephotographed so that users can chart the evolution of their neighbourhoods over the decades and look into the eyes of the people who once walked these streets. The six walking tours delve into Nanaimo’s history with unparalleled depth, examining subjects such as life in Nanaimo in the 1800s, the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, and a century of dramatic changes to Nanaimo’s picturesque waterfront.

We’re also excited to see what creative ways people will use the app’s camera to create their own then-and-now mashups. Users can effectively superimpose themselves into historic photos in a variety of fun and interesting ways, which, a fun experience for the whole family. They can share their photo mashups and see those created by others on Instagram with the hashtag #onthisspot.

What makes Nanaimo a great fit for an app like this? How did you choose Nanaimo?

Nanaimo is a perfect fit for this new kind of storytelling. It is one of the oldest communities in Western Canada and traces of its early past are visible in its many historic buildings and curious street layout. It also happened that the first settlement by Europeans was in the 1850s, right when photography was becoming commonplace, meaning we were able to recreate photos of the settler community’s very earliest days.

We were able to create this coverage with the generous support of Tourism Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Hospitality Association. We believe this app will become an important part of the city’s allure to visitors for years to come.

Did you learn anything surprising about Nanaimo’s history while putting it together?

I was fascinated by the deep history of coal mining in the city, which can be difficult to see today. I was surprised to learn that the first coal shafts sunk in the 1850s were located just steps away from the first homes in the settlement, around the Bastion. A labyrinth of tunnels dug in those days still lies underneath much of downtown Nanaimo. Some mines, like the No. 1 Esplanade mine, had tunnel networks that extended all the way out under the harbour and out to Protection and Newcastle Islands. Miners at work in those tunnels could hear the propellers of passing ships above them.

Do you have a favourite point of comparison?

There are so many to choose from. There’s a striking photo of a group of militia in their colonial-era pith helmets milling about on Church Street during the brief period in 1913 when Nanaimo was under pseudo-military occupation to break a miners’ strike. Another favourite is a photo of two boys crossing Commercial Street, looking straight into the photographer’s lens over a century ago. The harbour is a central feature of Nanaimo, and a representative picture shows a majestic CPR steamship docked at the ferry terminal once located just beneath the Bastion. I also was fascinated by a view of Departure Bay from the top of Sugar Mountain, showing the huge coal wharves on the water’s edge, of which only the pilings remain today.

How do people download the app?

The app is free and available for Android and iOS devices. Download links can be found at