PEI

P.E.I.'s Province House comes to life through virtual reality

Visitors to Prince Edward Island will have a new way to walk through the hallways of Province House in Charlottetown this summer — a team of university students has created a virtual reality tour of the historic building.

Visitors can put on goggles and walk through the hallways of historic building

André Laurin of Parks Canada talks to summer student Danielle Hayes as she tries out the new virtual tour. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Visitors to Prince Edward Island will have a new way to walk through the hallways of Province House in Charlottetown this summer — even though the historic building is closed for renovations. 

A team of university students has created a virtual reality tour of the historic building. 

Being able to use this modern technology to tell stories of our past is definitely a great way to bring that past to life.— André Laurin

Province House is undergoing $47 million in renovations and is not scheduled to reopen until 2021.

"You see all the different architecture of Province House, you see the different rooms, you learn the history of it," said Danielle Hayes, a summer student with Parks Canada.

"You don't realize how lifelike the experience is until you really get to try it."

Visitors will put on goggles and controllers to take a virtual tour of Province House. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Visitors put on special goggles and controllers and explore rooms and hallways, go up and down stairs and even look out windows.

"It was immersive to say the least — it was really quite something special," said summer student Paul Chiasson. "It's quite a beautiful building."

'Priceless' reactions

Laser scans of the building were used to create a 3-D model, then the students used software and animation to bring it to life, in a partnership between Parks Canada, UPEI and the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Visitors can move through Province House by clicking on the controller. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It's always fun seeing people experience it for the first time," said Hannah Matheson, a third-year student at UPEI.

"They put on the headset and they're just completely immersed and their reactions are just priceless."

'Hold everyone's interest'

The team of developers needed to learn technical skills, but also all about the building they were profiling.

Danielle Hayes is a summer student with Parks Canada and got a sneak preview of the virtual tour. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"I didn't know a whole lot, I hadn't been there in very very many years," Matheson said. "We did get to do a tour of the actual structure during the construction time to get a real sense of it."

There was also the challenge of making a historic building interesting.

"We did try to keep some things in there to hold everyone's interest while they're taking the tour — for those who may not be as interested in the history and architecture of the building," said Tristan Dawson, who has just graduated from UPEI.

Virtual brick

There is one point where people can use the controllers to lift up a brick.

Parks Canada summer student Paul Chaisson uses the controller to lift a brick. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"I find most people are very excited about the actual brick itself and playing with it and juggling it and seeing what they can do in that virtual world that they're in," Dawson said.

The design team has been eager to test out the new virtual reality experience.

"It's a little nerve-racking for me because I really want people to enjoy it," Dawson said.

Novelty of technology

Parks Canada is also excited to see how visitors will respond to the new virtual reality tour.

The controllers help to navigate through the building. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"Being able to use this modern technology to tell stories of our past is definitely a great way to bring that past to life and also to provide opportunities for people to experience it when they can't," said André Laurin, project lead.

Parks Canada also hopes the new exhibit will satisfy visitors hoping to see Province House.

"We do hear that, of course — it's an iconic building, it's part of Charlottetown so lots of folks are disappointed or surprised when it's closed," said Ocel Dauphinais-Matheson, a visitor experience manager with Parks Canada. 

The $47 million renovation of Province House is expected to be completed in 2021. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

The exhibit will run from July 1 to August 31 and Parks Canada is predicting it will be popular.

"That's the big question — we know it's new technology, we know it's exciting," said Dauphinais-Matheson.

"A lot of people have never done VR so just the novelty of trying it out is going to be a big one. We're pretty sure it's going to be a pretty popular thing."

More P.E.I. News

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca