Augmented-reality experience helps tell Academy’s history

WSUV program’s app will enhance historic site's Dec. 8 anniversary

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Mother Joseph and her fellow Sisters of Providence arrived in Vancouver on Dec. 8, 1856.

The 161st anniversary of that event will be celebrated when an augmented-reality experience and some other visitor-friendly features are unveiled at Providence Academy.

The Historic Trust is holding an open house from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Providence Academy, 400 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver.

The nonprofit group is renovating the brick landmark, including some highly visible exterior upgrades. The open house will spotlight some things that can’t be seen from people passing by on Evergreen Boulevard, including the legacy of some of the community’s earliest contributors.

“For many people, Providence Academy remains a mystery,” Richard Burrows, the trust’s director of community outreach and programs, said. “For others, they have had experiences with businesses, marriages, special events they’ve attended. Still others went to — or had relatives who went to — Providence Academy and have very specific personal experiences with the place.

“The new interpretive display provides another opportunity to help visitors understand the importance of the place,” he said. “The augmented-reality app will draw younger minds to exciting 2- and 3-D virtual experiences. The new docent corps will help the place come alive again, through conversations and regular opportunities to explore.”

The augmented reality feature is a new mobile app created by the Creative Media and Digital Culture program at Washington State University Vancouver.

The app will provide a virtual history of Providence Academy through mobile devices. Visitors will be able to point their phone at sites around the building and interact with the videos and graphics that appear.

One augmented-reality segment is built around an animated version of the building’s bell. Visitors will be able to pull their phones downward in a tugging motion, ringing the 400-pound bell.

Students in instructor Dene Grigar’s class have also visited the Providence Archives in Seattle to review historical documents and images.

A more traditional technique for sharing history also will debut when a new interpretive installation is unveiled in the ballroom corridor. The panels will use images and text to tell the story of the Sisters of Providence within the larger context of history.

It will illustrate the sisters’ work over the span of 140 years across the West and southern Canada, Burrows said. And it will include well-known historical figures who were here from 1856 to 1966.

“The presence of the military and the academy were significant features of how Vancouver became what is it,” Burrow said.

Several objects, including artifacts found during the roof renovation, will be displayed.

Visitors also will be able to drop in at Providence Academy’s new tour office inside the front entrance. Trust officials will be announcing a regular tour schedule, said Toni Wise, marketing and communications manager.

The Historic Trust formerly was known as the Fort Vancouver National Trust.