Public tours of the Plaskett telescope will end as public outreach shuts down after Saturday at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich.

Centre of the Universe goes dark Saturday

Saanich can no longer lay claim to being the centre of the universe as astronomy outreach programs end

Saanich can no longer lay claim to being the centre of the universe, as the educational astronomy facility atop Little Saanich Mountain that bears that very name closes it doors tomorrow.

Centre of the Universe, the National Research Council’s interpretive centre at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, lost its annual $250,000 funding from the federal government in June, and Saturday marks its last offering public education and tours.

Many people are optimistic, however, that the closure will only be temporary.

“When the centre was first built, the plan was to have it run by a non-profit organization,” said Greg Fahlman, director general of the NRC’s national astronomy and astrophysics programs, based at the Saanich observatory.

“What are the prospects now for something like that? For a community-based non-profit organization that takes a hand in operating these facilities on behalf of the community? We’ll we’re not too sure how something like that can be put together, but it’s something that’s being looked at anyway.”

Two employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure and one will be reassigned, the NRC says.

“It’s got to do with financial constraints,” said Charles Drouin, spokesman for the NRC in Ottawa. “We do exercises that look at all the activities and programs, and rejig them. It was a tough decision, but one we felt we had to do.”

The Centre of the Universe facility – which houses historical artifacts like the original 1.8-metre mirror from the Plaskett Telescope and runs historical tours, multimedia shows, and youth programs – costs about $32,000 to operate and $245,000 in employee wages, and brings in about $47,000 per year in revenue, giving the NRC a sum savings of $230,000 per year.

As of Sunday, the national historic site will have no public outreach, and locals and visitors will no longer be able to tour the Plaskett Telescope, in operation since May 6, 1918. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people – many of them school kids – visited the national historic site each year since the Centre of the Universe opened 12 years ago.

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham said that while the provincial government doesn’t have financial responsibility over the NRC site, she said it has a stake in the closure, as the public school system regularly took advantage of programming offered there.

“What concerns me most is we’re shutting the doors on a very valuable educational resource. A lot of school programs go through there,” Popham said. “There’s such value in hands-on learning. We can all tap into the Internet and see some of this stuff on a computer, but for students going up and seeing equipment with their own eyes does leave a lasting impression. It’s hard to put a price on education like that.”

Popham said tomorrow’s closure doesn’t spell the end of public outreach for astronomy in Victoria. She’s working with Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison on a petition to restore funding to the centre.

“What we’ve tried to do … is raise enough awareness to find another option to look at if (federal) funding doesn’t come back. I don’t think closing it down permanently is an option. Being creative and figuring out another way to run it is something I’d be interested in,” she said.

Tomorrow’s final public offering at Centre of the Universe will be business as usual, Fahlman said.

“It’s a show and tell day – people can come up and go into the exhibits, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada will be there showing the public the sky through their telescopes, there may be tours into the Plaskett telescope, and we’ll have some lectures on astronomy in the auditorium,” he said.

The Centre opens at 3:30 p.m. and will close late into the night, after dark.

Fahlman says he anticipates there will be a lot of people in attendance Saturday, and asks that visitors be patient.

“The observatory is a landmark in Victoria, you can see it pretty much from anywhere in the city, and people are just naturally curious: ‘what the heck is that thing?'” Fahlman said.

“Most astronomers, most scientists are more than eager to go on at great lengths at how exciting, how interesting the science is, and that’s the thing that is disconcerting to us: that connection to the community has been disrupted.”

– with files from Edward Hill


Just Posted

More than a million square feet of rental units proposed for downtown Victoria development

The Harris Green development is proposed to take over two large lots on Yates Street

Trend to convert lawns to meadows and gardens reaches Oak Bay

Front yard ‘food production,’ a piece of the puzzle

UVic researchers develop industry-changing ‘hyper-glue’

‘Cross-linking’ technology already playing a role in performance body armour

West Shore sees drop in traffic violations

The 315 violations in first six months of the year represent a 42 per cent decrease from 2018

Greater Victoria sees lowest rainfall numbers for November in decades

Only a third of the expected rainfall was seen across the Capital Region

VIDEO: A brief history of bumps in the Trudeau-Trump relationship

Remember Peter Navarro saying ‘there’s a special place in hell’ for a foreign leader who aims to cheat?

POLL: Will you be donating to charities over the holiday season?

Many here in Victoria joined others around the world to take part… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 3

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Vancouver Island town to star in new Syfy series: Resident Alien

Ladysmith will play the role of Patience, Colorado in the series

Half of shoppers say they have no holiday spending budget

B.C. consumers surveyed estimate they will spend $921 this season

Opening day delayed at Mount Washington

Dec. 6 was set as opening day but will now be delayed due to lack of snow.

Province begins forfeiture of Shawnigan contaminated soil site

The forfeiture proceedings do not impact the closure plan for the landfill site

Man killed in crash due to ‘absolutely treacherous’ conditions on Coquihalla

Winter means icy roads are dangerous and drivers should be careful, RCMP say

Former Burns Lake mayor gets two years for sexual assaults against minors

The Crown is seeking four to six years federal time; the defence wants 18 months in provincial jail

Most Read