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Celebrating of First Light

Astronomy has been part of Canadian life for hundreds if not thousands of years, and here the history of one of the most important telescopes will be exhibited.

Category: Visual Arts Events


Audience | All Ages


Among the Ojibwa of northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, some spiritual leaders had special knowledge of the stars and the planets that was used to guide the day-to-day affairs of their communities. In later times, (1898), one of the government astronomers, Dr. Otto Klotz, had a vision for a grander facility—a “national observatory.” The result was the founding of the Dominion Observatory with Dr Frederick King, the Chief Astronomer, as its first Director. The Observatory’s primary function was to mark the primary longitude for Canada and the determination and distribution of time to government departments, including Parliament, and to other businesses that required precise time, most notably the railways.<br><br>The Dominion Observatory was completed in 1905 with “first light,” the main instrument, a 15-inch (38-cm) diameter refracting telescope, occurring in spring, on 17 April 1905. The Observatory became the primary reference point for anyone measuring time and geographical locations—latitudes and longitudes and altitudes—in Canada. The new facility combined functions from several other government departments but significantly added astronomical studies of natural phenomena of the Sun and stars. Observatory staff were also given the responsibility to study gravity variations, which are related to underlying natural resources like iron, and to the shape of the Earth.<br><br> The Observatory’s main telescope (CSTM 1974.0488), ca 1930–32, the Warner & Swasey / Brashear 15-inch (38-cm) refracting telescope was, and remains, Canada’s largest. Fom 1905 the Dominion Observatory’s astronomers made notable contributions to the study of the Sun, an aspect of Canadian astronomy that continued with new instruments, both optical and radio, until 1993 when the last of the solar programs ended.