Driftscape – A critical exploration


Photo: Driftscape


Fred McGarry

Expanding the narrative

Published Date: Sep 07, 2018

Driftscape is a platform for collaborative publication and discovery of associative cultural landscapes. Our landscapes are caches of our histories, memories, stories, songs, spirits, myths and legends. Such widely held narratives – even when contradictory – attest to the significance of place in our lives.

Driftscape provides a mobile app platform for local arts, culture and heritage organizations to share places of interest, events and tours. The app enables users to learn about where they are, on their own schedule from diverse local experts – all in one easy-to-access place. Driftscape enlivens Toronto’s public spaces with the stories, sounds, images, videography and music of our cultural heritage from a rapidly growing group of over 20 organizations – including Now Magazine, Spacing, Toronto Public Library, the City of Toronto’s Museums and Heritage Services and First Story.

Driftscape was born out of research initiatives led by the Centre for Community Mapping, the Computer Systems Group and the Heritage Resource Centre of the University of Waterloo, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. The research explored the use of web mapping and database and content management services for the purpose of enabling Indigenous multimedia narrative mapping. The work evolved from web page to mobile app collaboratively with First Story, an Indigenous heritage organization in Toronto. While the First Story app narratives are popular, informative and germane in an era of reconciliation, our research team decided to extend the cultural breadth of the project by partnering with the founders of Track Toronto, who had mapped the music of Toronto to form Driftscape, a social enterprise that supports many local perspectives.

With a rich Indigenous context and cultural infusion from immigrant communities, Ontario contains many cultural landscapes. While UNESCO recognizes Indigenous associative cultural landscapes, the collective place-based knowledge of Indigenous and settler communities in Ontario is largely inaccessible.

Driftscape creates a digital space where these cultural landscapes become visible, and enables users to seamlessly interact with diverse narratives in the spaces where they are most relevant. The Driftscape app is available for iOS and Android. Visit to download it.

The inscription of such (associative cultural) landscapes on the World Heritage List is justifiable by virtue of the powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element rather than material cultural evidence, which may be insignificant or even absent. (From UNESCO 2005 Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention (1972) Annex 3.)