“We did our best to create something people will find helpful”
The next time you’re in Banff looking to get some fresh air, exercise and a dash of local history, be sure to download a new app developed by a team of NAIT Digital Media and IT students.
The Commonwealth Walkway mobile app (available for IOS and Android) helps users navigate a network of four trails totalling 18 kilometres in and around Banff, Alberta.
The walkway features bronze plaques along existing trails at points of local and historical interest, like the Old Banff Cemetery, the Tunnel Mountain Summit and the Banff Fish Hatchery, which the app supplements with historic details, photos and trivia. It also provides directions and distances from one point of interest to the next, and can be downloaded and used offline, so no data is required.
The four trails begin at the Commonwealth Walkway commemorative plaque at the southwest corner of Banff Avenue and Buffalo Street, outside the Banff Park Museum National Heritage Site. The walkway was opened in 2017 to mark the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and celebrate Canada’s membership in the Commonwealth.
A partnership with the Lieutenant Governor
The 11 DMIT students – 10 specializing in software development and one in business analysis – spent their final semester developing the app for Alberta Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell.
“Seeing our students apply their skills to real-world projects like this is what polytechnic education is all about.”
The idea evolved from a conversation Mitchell had with Dr. Sue Fitzsimmons, NAIT’s vice-president academic and provost, about the walkway and the need for a better tool to navigate the trails and learn about local culture and history in the Commonwealth.
Before the app was created, users could download four separate PDF maps of the trails (Tunnel Mountain, Vermilion Lakes, Sundance Canyon and Spray River) from the town’s website. But they were difficult to use on the go.
Fitzsimmons suggested Mitchell’s office work with the DMIT program. “Seeing our students apply their skills to real-world projects like this, learning and adjusting as they go, is what polytechnic education is all about,” says Fitzsimmons.
Learning along the way
Because there was no budget for the project, the students did everything themselves with free tools, from building to testing to publishing the app. In order to develop an app that would work for both IOS and Android, they had to learn to use Flutter, an open-source mobile development framework none of them had ever used.
"We didn’t know how to make a completed app until we did it.”
“We feel really proud of it, mostly because we didn’t know how to make a completed app until we did it,” says Francesca Macasinag, the team’s business analyst. While the students do small programming projects in their courses, they had never built an app of this scale and complexity.
In the final stage of the project, the students received a grant from RBC Future Launch to fund a trip to Banff for team members to test the app on the ground.
On the last weekend of April, the student team and DMIT program chair Steve Chattargoon were invited to meet with the Lieutenant Governor in her suite at the legislature for tea, cupcakes and some warm words of appreciation.
“I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done,” she told the students after asking each of them about their background and what brought them to the NAIT program. “I have the app now and it’s brilliant, just brilliant … I am so, so impressed.”
The students, who spent about an hour visiting with Mitchell and touring the legislature gallery, said they were thrilled to be part of the project.
“It’s great to have our work recognized, and I’m hoping that the app will be well-used. We did our best to try to create something people will find helpful,” says Daylan Law, technical lead on the project.
The Commonwealth Walkway app is available on the App Store and Google Play.
The team behind the app
The Commonwealth Walkway App was created by a team of 11 students in NAIT's Digital Media and IT program:
- Bo Pang, map developer
- Chris Edwards, full stack developer
- James Ginther, quality assurance and mobile developer
- Dylan Hildebrand, map developer
- Matthew Howat, full stack developer
- Christopher Lam, front end designer and mobile developer
- Daylan Law, tech lead
- Francesca Macasinag, product owner and business analyst
- Ramandeep Singh, quality assurance and mobile developer
- Kim Stevenson, quality assurance and mobile developer
- Rameez Tirmizi, quality assurance and mobile developer
Other students who provided support:
- Maria Hernandez, graphic designer
- Janine Lockyer, animator
- Vanid Phromrasmy, graphic designer