An archaeologist at the University of Calgary is constructing digital 3D recreations of some of Alberta’s heritage sites in an attempt to create records of historic landmarks for monitoring deterioration and to offer future generations a glimpse of the past.

Peter Dawson’s three-dimensional modeling of sections of the arctic, conducted during his decades of research in Canada’s north, captured the attention of Alberta Culture and Tourism.

“We work with my colleague, Dr. Derek Lichti in geomatics engineering, and with our graduate students using something called reality capture technology using 3D laser scanning and drones to digitally capture heritage sites,” explained Dawson. “Then create things like as-built architectural plans and 3D models for community outreach and education.”

The research group has created 3D digital records of several provincial landmarks including the Okotoks Erratic, the Brooks Aqueduct, the recently demolished Quon Sang Lung laundry building in Fort Macleod and the McDougall Memorial United Church that was destroyed by fire earlier this year.

“Obviously, there’s no substitute for the actual, physical heritage resource but I think these digital technologies provide us with very accurate and precise 3D models that are photo realistic, the kind of thing you might see in video games.”

Dawson says the 3D models will be made available as virtual exhibits that will be available to the public and appeal to a number of groups including young Albertans who are familiar with the technologies.

“This archive would house all of the 3D data that we collect and there would be a public and a professional end. The public end of the archive would allow the public to interact with the 3D models of heritage sites that we scan but it would also contain information about their history and why they’re significant.”

“The professional end of the archive would contain the raw data files that could then be downloaded and used for research.”

Ron Moore, president of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, says the 3D models of the 142-year-old McDougall Memorial United Church, which had stood near Highway 1A near Morley, could prove invaluable should a decision be made to rebuild the church.

“It gives us the opportunity to get the positioning correct and everything else. When we clear the site to do anything, we lose all of that,” said Moore. “The whole idea is to be historically accurate.”

Dawson says a number of factors, including urban sprawl and natural disasters, can jeopardize historic locations. “As we know from recent wildfires and flooding, as well as gentrification and urban development, there’s a lot of really important and significant heritage sites in the province here that are also at risk of destruction.”

In addition to digitally preserving heritage sites, Dawson says the 3D scanning allows for the tracking of deterioration of heritage sites to identify maintenance needs. “Just so we can ensure that these sites are going to be around for future generations.”

With files from CTV’s Kevin Green