A new interactive walking tour of Historic Hat Creek Ranch allows visitors to see history in a new way.

Technology brings the past alive at Hat Creek Ranch

A new interactive walking tour uses 21st century technology to let visitors interact with the past.

History has always come alive at Historic Hat Creek Ranch (HHCR); but thanks to some cutting edge technology, it is now coming alive in a brand new and exciting way.

The ranch has partnered with award-winning tech company Quest Upon to create an interactive walking tour of the site that combines geocaching, augmented reality, trivia, scavenger hunts, and more. All that visitors have to do is download the free app, available on iPhone and Android, to their smartphone or tablet, then start the self-guided walking tour once they are at the site. There is no charge for the tour, which is included in admission to the ranch.

“We wanted to be on the leading edge of this,” says Don Pearse, HHCR general manager. QuestUpon did a presentation to delegates at the Cariboo-Chilcotin-Coast Tourism Association AGM and conference in Quesnel last November, and Pearse was intrigued with what he saw.

“I asked them to stop at the ranch on their way back to the coast from Quesnel, and they loved the venue. They thought there were so many possibilities that stay true to the story of the Cariboo gold rush.”

Tammy Meyers, co-founder and chief operating officer of QuestUpon, says that there are 15 “missions” available to visitors to HHCR. “You tap on the Hat Creek Ranch quest, and you’ll see a list of missions, each one with a task. You’re guided with an arrow and the number of metres left to walk, and when you arrive at the mark it will let you know you’ve arrived.” The mission is then revealed, for participants to complete before moving on to the next one.

In addition to such missions as a scavenger hunt or geocache, the end result could involve augmented reality: the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. By using their phone or tablet’s camera view, the user can see a 3-D animated figure in the real time landscape they are viewing.

“Various 3-D animations crop up,” says Pearse, “and pictures can be taken with them by the picture-taker positioning people in relation to the animation.”

The feature is now up and running at the ranch, and Pearse says it takes 30 to 40 minutes to complete. He cautions that it is best suited to devices with a data plan, as the WiFi on the site is only good in certain locations. “It doesn’t eat up a lot of data,” he adds.

A family from Kamloops that took the tour on July 1 couldn’t say enough about it, he notes. “The kids were amazed by it, and the family absolutely loved it.”

QuestUpon also has a tour of Hope available, with participants able to view a sternwheeler coming up the Fraser at one of the missions. A similar tour operates in Kelowna, with one coming soon to Yale.

Pearse says that in addition to QuestUpon, the ranch is also offering visitors an opportunity to witness a re-enactment of a wedding that took place there in 1881. “The bride and groom and the person officiating are in period costume, and there’s an explanation beforehand of the circumstances, and wedding traditions of the time. Everyone watching is invited to have wedding cake after the event. It’s a fun and different thing to do.” The “wedding” takes place every Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.

Work is progressing on the two recently announced building projects at the site: a new ground-level gift shop adjacent to the main building, and a new firehouse and service building near the entrance. “Five contractors have done site visits, and are working on proposals, which we hope to have by mid-July,” says Pearse. “We hope to make a decision by the end of July, and are on track to break ground on October 1, the day after the ranch closes for the season. There are certain weather issues to consider, but we hope to be closed in by December.”

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