The Power of QR Codes


Most people interested in historic places enjoy learning about site history. For instance, the public may like to learn about detailed historical information, heritage values and information pertaining to site location. Throughout Alberta (and listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places), there are 339 Provincial Historic Resources, two Provincial Historic Areas, 211 Registered Historic Resources and approximately 157 Municipal Historic Resources. How could information about these sites be shared with the public? 

What are QR Codes? 

The emergence of small adaptable square bar codes called QR codes could be an option. QR (Quick Response) codes are funny looking square bar codes that can be scanned from your cell phone’s camera, provided your phone is enabled with decoding software. Each code can be embedded with all kinds of information including text, URLs or other data. 

QR Code (bottom right-hand corner) featured on a Government of Alberta advertisement.

My first experience with QR codes was three years ago when I participated in an urban race in Edmonton. The race was part scavenger hunt and part puzzle solving, which largely involved finding particular locations by solving riddles about Edmonton and completing certain tasks. A portion of the race involved using your cell phone to find QR Codes.  Since the race, I have noticed a gradual increase in the use of QR codes. They are in advertisements and located on the packaging of various consumer products. 

The Japanese, creators of the QR code, wanted a way to embed content that could be quickly decoded. Created in 1994, the Japanese have integrated the QR code into their everyday life. In a place so densely populated, where lack of space is an issue, the QR code allows for much more information to be available to those who want it. Although QR codes are most commonly used for reading a URL and accessing a website, QR codes in Japan are also being used in unique ways. QR codes can be used to allow people to purchase items from cashless vending machines by scanning QR codes with their cell phones. 

Check out the QR Code for Ophelia Liew's email address.

QR Codes and Historic Places: 

Could QR codes be used to provide information on individual historic places, and also for walking tours, historic districts and areas? The compact size, the ease in generating new codes and the popularity of camera enabled cell phones are all factors that suggest the ease of using QR codes. It would be interesting to investigate if QR codes could be used as a new and effective medium for displaying and accessing information about Alberta’s historic places. 

Heritage Conservation Advisors would find this technology useful as we refer to two main conservation management tools on a daily basis: the Statement of Significance (SoS) and the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Each designated historic resource in the province has a Statement of Significance, a one or two page document that outlines the site’s heritage values and character-defining elements. Anyone with an appropriate type of cell phone would have the ability to retrieve the Statement of Significance by being directed to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. 

Written by: Ophelia Liew, Heritage Conservation Advisor

Read about where we work! Check out the QR Code for Old St. Stephen's College's Statement of Significance.

2 thoughts on “The Power of QR Codes

  • Interesting article.

    “Could QR codes be used to provide information on individual historic places, and also for walking tours, historic districts and areas?”

    Yes! The City of Edmonton Public Interpretation team and Web Office developed walking tours at the Muttart Conservatory, and Fort Edmonton Park has QR codes throughout, providing a historically based scavenger hunt/game visitors can play on their mobile phones.

    QR codes seem to be more popularly used in interpretation in other countries but are catching on in Canada.

    • We are pleased that you found this article interesting – and thank you for sharing information on how the City of Edmonton is using QR Codes.

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