RICHMOND HILL, Ont. – Randy Attwood remembers that for the first time as an eight-year-old boy he visited the David Dunlap observatory and was in awe when he looked up at the towering 1,88-meter reflecting telescope.
He never thought he would give more than 40 years later lectures on astronomy at Richmond Hill, Ont., Observatory as Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
"When you first enter the observatory, you see this enormous telescope," said Attwood. "It is overwhelming for an eight-year-old who is certain … I am overwhelmed every time I go there as an adult, it is impressive to watch."
This summer, the observatory, which contains the largest telescope in Canada, reopened to the public after 10 years.
The city of Richmond Hill, owner of the observatory and about half of the surrounding property, is looking for the first time to raise awareness of the site and reach the community through programming, said Maggie MacKenzie, coordinator of the heritage center of the city.
About 45 minutes drive north of downtown Toronto, visitors can watch the telescope with a length of 1.88 meters every Saturday, a telescope on the lawn around the observatory and listen to a guest speaker who talks about astronomy. gives. Once a month on Sundays, guided tours in the observatory and administration building give more information about the history of the site. A space camp for children also runs during the week this summer.
Since the University of Toronto sold the property in 2008, there has been a dispute over the years of property ownership and how it should be enforced, said Ian Shelton, chairman of the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders, a group that protected the properties at the end of 2007 and advocate for his maintenance.
"It's a beautiful place, it's a best kept secret, people should definitely visit it," said Shelton, who runs programs from the observatory and astronomy at the University of Toronto.
"It is a very, very beautiful place to visit based on its aesthetic value, but what it represents in terms of Canadian history is simply even more spectacular."
The 61-foot dome of the observatory weighs 80 tons and was built in England and transported by ship to Canada in 1933, MacKenzie said. The telescope was the second largest in the world when the observatory was officially opened in 1935.
The building was designated as a historic site in 2009 and the majority of the building for observation and administration is in its original state. The telescope is still functional and hundreds of photos of planets and constellations are still being held in the space for radio astronomy.
David Alexander Dunlap was an avid astronomer, philanthropist and founder of the gold mines of Hollinger. After he died in 1924, his wife, Jessie Donalda Dunlap, donated the property to the University of Toronto as a memorial to her husband. The observatory was then at the forefront of Canadian astronomical research through the university.
"There were a number of prominent astronomers who made this place their home," MacKenzie said.
Helen Sawyer Hogg, one of the few female astronomers at the time, began research in the observatory in the 1930s. She photographed more than 2,000 stars, published more than 200 newspapers and wrote a column for the Toronto Star from the 1950s to the 1980s through her work at the observatory.
Dr. Charles Thomas Bolton was a postdoctoral researcher at the observatory in 1970 and two years later he discovered a black hole through his research.
"But at the moment light pollution started to become a problem," MacKenzie said.
She said around the 1970s, when the population of Richmond Hill grew and the surrounding areas developed, light pollution became more of a problem and the astronomers had to adjust their research methods.
When Dr. Donald Alexander MacRae, for example, was director of the observatory and chairman of the university's astronomy department from the 1960s to 1978, he set up a radio astronomy program that used a 24-inch telescope in Macau, MacKenzie said. She said because of the light pollution, what research would be carried out in Chile and communicated to astronomers in the Dunlap observatory
But despite the efforts, astronomers realized that the telescope was not very useful and shortly after the observatory was no longer used for research, Attwood said.
"Light pollution is a big problem and that has been a long time, light pollution is a real challenge," said Attwood. "It ruins the night sky for people, very few people have seen a total dark sky."
Although the observatory is no longer used for astronomical research, Attwood said that the site has always been "a central focus for education and assistance" because the community is constantly coming through the observatory to watch the night sky during the summer.
"I could not think of a better way to spend an evening."