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New app brings historic Ashcroft to life on walking tour

The free app lets people explore the village and see long-vanished buildings spring to life.
The augmented reality walking tour of Ashcroft created by QuestUpon means participants can look down Railway Avenue and see this scene of historic Chinatown instead of the buildings currently there. The only building that survives (in a much-altered state) is the Wing Wo Lung building, which now houses Rolgear. Ashcroft Museum and Archives

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stroll down Railway Avenue in Ashcroft and see Chinatown as it looked in the 1920s? Or walk down 6th Street and see, not the Village Office, but the Lady Minto Hospital in 1912?

How would you like to look up and see a steam train coming towards you, or view the Ashcroft Hotel on July 5, 1916 as it caught fire, or see the original location of the bridge into Ashcroft, upstream of its current location, that brought people and goods to and from the town?

You can now do all this and more, courtesy of an augmented reality tour of Ashcroft created by QuestUpon, an award-winning B.C.-based firm that has been creating quests throughout the province (there are quests in Hope, Yale, and Kelowna, amongst other locations). Last year the firm launched a quest at Historic Hat Creek; and in writing a story about it (see “Technology brings the past alive at Hat Creek Ranch”, The Journal, July 7, 2016), Ashcroft councillor Barbara Roden saw the opportunity for something similar in Ashcroft: an augmented reality tour of the village that would bring the past to life.

She did some research, prepared a report, and put a proposal to Ashcroft council, which voted to pursue the idea. Ashcroft Museum and Archives curator Kathy Paulos was asked to supply historic photographs and information to the firm, which put together a historical walk through Ashcroft that has now gone live.

QuestUpon CAO and creative director Miles Marziani explains what they have done with the tour. “Virtual reality is where everything you see is virtual; nothing is real,” he explains. “Augmented reality is where you inject something virtual into the real world.”

Those who download the free QuestUpon app for Ashcroft onto their smartphone or tablet will be led on a tour that shows the village of yesterday. Participants start at the Visitor Information Centre at the Heritage Park, and are guided through town on a series of quests which involve geocaching, scavenger hunts, trivia questions, and surprise appearances.

At numerous spots along the route, participants can raise their devices and see not the current scene, but Ashcroft as it was in days gone by. Thus the Village Office disappears, and is replaced by a shot of the original Lady Minto Hospital; and the buildings on the north end of Railway vanish, showing instead Chinatown not long after it was rebuilt following the 1916 fire.

“I got the shivers when I saw that,” says Paulos, who accompanied Marziani on a try-out of the quest in May 2017. “I said that to Miles, and he said ‘Are you cold?’ and I said that no, it was just that there it was. It was very exciting.”

Paulos says that she was asked to send pictures of buildings that no longer existed, as well as history about them, to QuestUpon. Marziani then set about building the quest.

“I researched the geography of the town, and began the process of matching stories with locations,” he says. “A lot can be done from the office, but coming to the town was the next step. I had to come to the physical location and figure things out, like the distance from point A to point B.

“I used three different walking tour guides to help build the quest. And I found other things, like the safe from the Harvey Bailey building [the safe, revealed by the 2001 fire that destroyed the building, still stands in the vacant lot beside the post office, and features in the quest].

“The pictures and stories [Paulos sent] were really good. I took the walking tour guides and Kathy marked them up with the locations of the buildings.”

The quest takes participants on a tour of Ashcroft that ends at the north end of Railway, and takes about an hour to complete. Along the way, people can see historic buildings that are long-gone, answer trivia questions, and have their pictures taken alongside animals such as elk which pop up along the route. At the end of the quest a stagecoach departs the town, bound for destinations north.

The QuestUpon historical tour of Ashcroft can be downloaded on any smartphone or tablet at