Q&A with Sheila Willis, Project Manager of History Check App – Impact Tourism

Sheila Willis

What is History Check?
History Check is multi-use, map-based mobile app for exploring Alberta. People can find attractions, services, history and other points of interest. Each “site” may include images, information, contact details, links to both the site and other local or relevant information. App users can see what is around them, use community menus, or search the app for interests, wants or needs.

How did this app get its start?
History Check began as a northern Alberta app to place historical sites and stores by GPS location that could be searched by subject, person or dates. The links allow for documenting online sources of information related to that story. As we developed the concept, we realized that the system or platform we created could also be used for tourism. With the ability to create complete, explorable community guides, it was an opportunity for Alberta too good to pass up. Our feeling was that, especially for rural Alberta, this could be a game changer for smaller communities with interesting sites and businesses that are not often explored because (1) they are off the main highways and (2) cost-effective marketing is difficult. This is when we decided that we should offer everyone a free site listing to insure all could be included.

Does this app cost anything to download?

No. It is a free download from both Google Play and the App store. Our sign-up was one of our learning experiences. The only correct answers needed when signing up are e-mail and username. We are building an update to simplify the process.

How do I use the app after I’ve downloaded it?

The app loads on “Near Me” and any nearby sites will show as icons.

Touch one, and it opens an information page.

Zoom out (in?) to see nearby “Community Icons”

Open an icon and a “Community Menu” is displayed.

Choose one or all categories to see the sites in that community.

User can see their location as a little green guy.

It moves as they do. Like other location services you can follow it as you move around the map.

The other option is to select “Menu” then “Search” type in what you are looking for.

Museum is a good example. The results can be displayed in a list or a map format.

Selecting a site opens the information page.

On information pages you can make calls, send emails, and visit links from within the app. Other links are contained in the “For more info” page.

How do you know about the points of interest? Have they been submitted?

Many of the sites have been researched by myself, and others have been submitted. We encourage app users to alert us to sites that are not yet included. We also work with tourism groups, economic development organizations, historical societies, and governing bodies to add information they have submitted.

Do you think there are still points of interest out there you don’t know about yet?

We have barely touched the tip of the iceberg! Right now we have close to 3,000 sites added, with another 3,000 identified that we are in the process of adding. This will have tens of thousands in Alberta as it develops.

How well known is your History Check app?

At this point, not well known at all. We have spent the past four years developing the concept, releasing the beta version, and developing relationships with alliances and partners. Our cross-marketing partners have been waiting for instructions to market to app users, and just last week we sent out the first posters encouraging downloads. These will be displayed at participating locations. Our download link is also being added to websites of other organizations across the province. This is a collaborative initiative for both adding site listings on the app, but also marketing it. Working together everyone wins.

It says on your website that prior to History Check, you organized Alberta’s first geocaching tour. Can I use the History Check app for geocaching as well?

No. It is an entirely different application.

Is there a way to provide feedback?

Absolutely, and we welcome it. We have had some terrific feedback that will help us make improvements to future versions. From the app, select “About Us” on the top left-hand corner. There is a contact tab where people can send us an e-mail. This works for suggesting site listings as well, or you can submit a point of interest via the blue slide out arrow on the left-hand side of the screen.

This app is Alberta-based. Are there any plans to provide a similar app for other provinces?

Yes. We started as a northern Alberta mobile app and expanded to include the entire province as per request. Similarly, we have three groups in British Columbia and another group in the Northwest Territories that have asked us to expand there as well. First, we need to get Alberta covered.

Finally, is this a labour of love? How do you see your History Check app evolve?

This is definitely a labour of love. It has been built from my kitchen table with assistance from many others who have embraced the concept. We started as a non-profit with the intent of applying for the many marketing, tourism, heritage and other grants available. Interestingly enough, mobile apps did not qualify for many of those funding streams. We then changed our structure to a for-profit business – Impact Tourism. For some of our alliances it allowed them to purchase advertising with the new business structure. We are still unable to access many funding streams for economic development, tourism and innovation. So, as a grassroots initiative we continue to put one foot in front of the other towards self-sustainability through business advertisers. It is like running a 5km race, where 6,500 steps are required to reach the finish line. We have taken about 3,000 of them.


After four years of development by a handful of people, we are now ready to market to the app user. As downloads go up, businesses will see the value in our keyword advertising.

As advertising increases, so does our staff to have dedicated people for data entry, customer contacts, marketing and more.

All of these steps will roll forward together, improving the product for app users.

I see the project evolving into the premium travel companion app for Alberta with expansion into other provinces and countries. In addition to selfies and comments already available, we will add itineraries, interest alerts, and much more.