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MI Student Creates Interactive Index Map to Historic Halifax Aerial Photographs

Posted by SIM on May 5, 2021 in Students, News

Soon-to-be Master of Information (MI) graduate, Jesse Burgess, shared his recent experience creating an interactive index map to historical aerial photographs for the Halifax Municipal Archives. Originally intended as a summer practicum placement, the opportunity was shifted to a volunteer position in the fall term, due to the pandemic.

 < Screen-capture of the Halifax Municipal Archives’ Historical Aerial Photograph Index Map

The map presents a geographic index to digital images that Jesse described and uploaded into the Archives Database.  The 350 photos centred over Halifax Harbour were done in two surveys, one in 1955, the other in 2001. Jesse geo-referenced the historical photos and created shapefiles that HRM’s GIS Team used to generate the online index map.

“I really enjoyed working on the project, and it meant a lot to be able to see how my home city has grown over time,” said Jesse. “With one set of aerial photographs taken before my time and the other reflecting the period of my childhood, the project allowed me to contrast the areas I am familiar with and their origins. In the summer, I took the Government Information Resources course (INFO 6300) to give myself exposure to the other types of materials which I might encounter at the Archives. While completing the project in the fall, I took SIM’s Archives II (INFO 6860) and Geographic Information Systems (INFO 6681) courses; I considered this alignment to be very fortunate, as it helped bring everything I was learning and working with into sharper focus.”

Where the content of the photographs focused upon different areas within the HRM, finding a means to make them accessible naturally related to considering maps and the flight paths used to create the series. Both series of aerial photographs were managed by working with spreadsheets of associated metadata. Alongside the administrative metadata, Jesse sought out geospatial coordinates (latitude, longitude) of the photo-centres to facilitate mapping the images. Coordinates were obtained by cross-referencing Google Maps data and Natural Resource Canada’s “The Atlas of Canada – Toporama” (https://atlas.gc.ca/toporama/en/index.html) with the centres identified in the photographs.

Georges Island; Tom Alfoldi aerial photograph, 2001, CR70-237, Halifax Municipal Archives >

The map was built from an Esri ArcGIS shapefile based upon the geospatial coordinates identified for each image; each point plotted in the shapefile was labeled with the associated reference name and linked with a URL field to the archival holdings. Already the index map has helped users find images to support their research, or just have fun exploring all the changes in Halifax over the past 65 years.

From Municipal Archivist, Susan McClure: “This project was a perfect match of Jesse’s skills and our need to provide better access to these valuable historical images. We were delighted and grateful that despite COVID cancelling the practicum, Jesse was willing to volunteer his time to do the project.  We really appreciate the practicum opportunity to work with SIM students; it is rewarding to see them apply their classroom learning and complete needed projects for the Archives.  First-year student Jordan Audas just finished his practicum with us, and we now have some great new descriptions, digitized material and social media posts available to the public.”

“Having the opportunity to explore those time periods using the skills developed in the MI program really solidified my joint interests in archives and data management,” says Jesse. “The staff at the Halifax Municipal Archives were supportive not only of my work on the project, but of my understanding of broader archival principles and how municipal records are managed; it was an opportunity for which I am immensely grateful.”

Check out Jesse’s work here: https://www.halifax.ca/about-halifax/municipal-archives/exhibits/historical-aerial-photos.  The Archives plans to add more aerial photos to Jesse’s map, so let them know if you want to practice your GIS skills!

 ^ 1955 aerial photo over Eastern Passage – Lawlor Island – McNabs Island – Fort McNab, 102-105-1A-32164-02, Halifax Municipal Archives