ESQUIMALT HISTORY: Arthur McCurdy looked to the stars

Esquimalt pioneer helped establish the Gonzalez Hill Observatory

  • Mar. 26, 2014 5:00 p.m.

Once situated at the corner of Head Street and Esquimalt Road, “Thoburn” was the home of Arthur Williams McCurdy and his family.

Arthur was the father of  Douglas McCurdy, who is credited with making the first flight of a powered air machine in Canada. On Feb. 23, 1909, Douglas piloted the Silver Dart for Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck, N.S. Considered the father of Canadian aviation, Douglas declared in 1917 that flying machines would come into commercial use at the close of the First World War.

Douglas stayed in Eastern Canada visiting family whenever possible. Meanwhile, Arthur, a life-long friend of Graham Bell, took up residence in Esquimalt, becoming known as a photographer, astronomer, writer and inventor.

His many achievements included the invention of a system for automatic development of photographic films and plates, which led to the Eastman Kodak Company introducing the “Kodak” developing machine in 1902. He was very active in community affairs.

In 1913, as president of the Natural History Society of B.C., Arthur strongly promoted establishment of the Gonzalez Hill Observatory, to record weather, astronomical and seismic readings. As vice-president of the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, he and astronomer Dr. John Plaskett (also an Esquimalt resident), lobbied Ottawa for the construction of an astronomical facility on Vancouver Island.

In 1915, construction of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Little Saanich Mountain commenced and it opened in 1918. He was also the driving force behind the new Federal Graving Dock on Admirals Road.

He was also active in politics becoming the Liberal representative for Esquimalt in 1916, winning by only two votes. He resigned however over alleged irregularities in the soldier’s vote, opening the door for his Conservative opponent Robert Pooley to take the seat.

Arthur McCurdy died in Washington, DC in 1923.

 

 

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