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St. John's residents can get to know their neighbours with new phone app

The homepage for the Neighbours: St. John's app.
The homepage for the Neighbours: St. John's app. - FILE

A new, locally created phone app promises to enhance a downtown stroll in St. John’s with stories from the city’s diverse cultural communities.

The Neighbours: St. John’s is a free app for Android and iOS devices. Users can take a walking tour of downtown St. John’s and Middle Cove Beach while hearing stories associated with specific locations. But people don’t need to brave the cold weather — stories can also be heard by clicking on locations on a map within the app.

The app is co-produced by Memorial University’s Meghan Forsyth and Beverley Diamond, and created by radio documentarian and app creator Chris Brookes.

“We tried to avoid focusing on just the celebratory stories,” said Forsyth. “It’s really easy to say, ‘Yay, diversity’s so wonderful,’ and kind of leave it at that. When, in fact, diversity brings a whole lot of challenges to a whole lot of different people.

“And luckily we live in a place where that’s recognized and we’re working towards being more inclusive and understanding of people — of our neighbours — which is where the name came from.”

Stories on the app range from NDP Leader Lorraine Michael telling of her family’s Lebanese grocery store, to Mi’kmaq artist Jerry Evans talking about the Shanawdithit monument in Bannerman Park.

Another interesting story comes from realtor Bob Button, who describes his childhood memories of running wine and fetching soccer balls from St. John’s harbour for Portuguese fishermen.

“We include a lot of stories about tradition and celebration, but also some stories that challenge the idea of what it means to live in a diverse place and what it means to belong somewhere,” said Forsyth. “We have one story about a young woman’s experience wearing the hijab in St. John’s, which was not a good experience for her.”

Each story is accompanied by photographs and biographies, and information about the specific locations and historical events.

The app uses the built-in GPS in a user’s phone, so it doesn’t require a cell connection or data charges.

Forsyth says they may do another version of the app in the future so users can do another walk and hear new stories. For now, people who want to hear more stories can visit their website at www.mun.ca/neighbours/, which will be completed sometime this year and feature over 60 stories from the project.

The official launch of The Neighbours: St. John’s is Wednesday night at Rocket Bakery. The event will feature stories from the phone app and music from The Kubasonics’ Brian Cherwick.

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