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Science, National and Civic Identity, and Tourism at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Victoria, BC

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) opened its doors on May 6, 1918, propelling Canada onto the world stage of modern astrophysical research. The Observatory’s new telescope measures 1.8 m in diameter, making it the second largest in the world. This powerful scientific instrument enabled real breakthroughs in the decades that followed, and engendered a sense of national and civic pride among Canadians.

Astronomer John Stanley Plaskett was responsible for the telescope’s construction. In 1913, Plaskett and William King, Director of the Dominion Observatory, convinced federal authorities to go ahead with the project, which would become a symbol of Canada’s entry into the world’s great nations. Mr. Plaskett wanted to make the telescope a national and cultural icon.

Following the opening of the Observatory, DAO astronomers began to share the results of their work with the people of Victoria. They gave public lectures, published articles in local newspapers and spoke on the radio – a new medium at the time. The Observatory stimulated Victoria’s tourism industry, becoming a popular international destination and playing an important role in Victoria’s emergence as a tourist destination.

This exhibition tells the fascinating story of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, a scientific research center that propelled Canada into the world of modern astrophysics, brought it international recognition, and attracted visitors. We explore the Observatory’s construction and scientific discoveries, and examine its impact on national and civic identity, as well as its important contribution to Victoria’s tourism.

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Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory