May has started with an incredible celebration. The Plaskett Telescope turns 100 this month and the plaque designating the DAO as a National Historic Site of Canada has been unveiled. I was asked to speak on behalf of the Centre at this event. Here is a summary of the speech I made.
In addition to the centenary of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, 2018 marks the sesquicentennial of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada or RASC. Founded in Toronto by a group of astronomy enthusiasts, RASC has grown to be a national, coast to coast organization. With the addition of the Yukon Centre in 2016, the society is moving toward becoming truly coast to coast to coast.
The Victoria Centre joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 1914. Centre historians have discovered that the 1914 founding was not the first attempt by astronomy enthusiasts in Victoria to join RASC. In 1909, efforts were made to start a centre here which were unsuccessful. However, just five years later, the effort was successful. Why was that?
I think a critical piece that was missing in Victoria of 1909 was an anchor for an astronomy group. In the pre-information age, the success of societies such as RASC was greatly increased when there were locally available, high quality resources to support the efforts of the amateur members. Typically, this would be a research university. A university would provide faculty and staff members who might have expertise in astronomy, current publications in the library, and, perhaps most importantly, access to high quality equipment. By 1914, what had been missing in Victoria was starting to take shape.
The selection of Victoria as the home of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory meant that Victoria became the centre of astronomy in Canada. Having a top notch research institution is the best possible support a RASC centre could hope for. Just look at the telescope that came with this observatory! No one else had anything like that. As a result, the location of the DAO in Victoria was instrumental in the founding and success of the Victoria Centre. It is likely that Victoria would not have a 104 year old RASC centre had this observatory been built somewhere else.
A particular strength of the DAO continues to be public outreach. From the very early days, the public were welcomed to look through the telescope. A centre member studying its history discovered that the DAO was a leading tourist attraction in Victoria of the 1920s; records show that more than 30,000 visitors per year came to the hill. If you ask almost anyone who grew up in Victoria, they can describe a visit to the observatory so this facility certainly made an impression. For 100 years, it has been part of the fabric that makes Victoria an outstanding place to live.
Our centre benefits greatly from our relationship with the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. From the employees who are active RASC members to the many who volunteer to speak at our monthly meetings, we are a stronger centre because of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. In addition, the Victoria Centre has a larger membership that many other centres in Canada that have greater surrounding populations. I attribute some of that to the interest in astronomy that is generated by the presence of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.