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Unique Opportunities Provided by the Observatory

The observatory attracted the attention of both astronomers and the public. The public had a unique opportunity to see the world’s second largest telescope. In fact, it was the largest telescope worldwide that the public could visit.

Newspaper article: Scientists will visit Observatory. Delegation of prominent astronomers to hold session here.

The observatory attracted scientists who attended meetings in Seattle or Victoria. They would often make a short visit to Victoria to see the observatory. 

The observatory was also of great interest to scientists. Victoria hoped to become a scientific centre once the observatory was built. After its construction, several scientific meetings were held in Victoria and the observatory welcomed many visiting astronomers. The observatory even attracted visitors from major meetings that were held in Vancouver or Seattle.

The observatory also offered a unique opportunity for students. They began visiting the observatory soon after it opened. In July 1919 students from the Cowichan Valley made the trip to Victoria, which required traveling over a narrow, steep, and dangerous stretch of road. School visits to the observatory have continued to this day throughout its existence.

Newspaper article: NORMAL SCHOOL AFFAIRS Students Visit Giant Telescope at Observatory; Literary Society Carries on Good Work.

School groups began visiting the observatory soon after it opened and have continued almost continuously to this day. Adults who grew up in Victoria often have fond memories of their visit to the observatory. The school visits today are run by the Friends of the DAO

The observatory also hired astronomy students from the University of Toronto. These students worked during the summer months, using the telescope and measuring plates. This valuable experience paved the way to successful careers: Peter Millman, for example, spent three summers at the observatory as a student (1927-1929). He went on to obtain his PhD from Harvard and had a distinguished career in Canada.

Black and white portrait photograph of an older man wearing a jacket and tie

Robert Methven Petrie (1906 – 1966) was born in Scotland but emigrated to Canada at the age of 5. He began work at the observatory in 1935 and became Director in 1951. An excellent administrator, he was appointed Dominion Astronomer in 1964 with responsibility for the proposed Queen Elizabeth II observatory project.

Another summer assistant was Robert Methven Petrie, who grew up in Victoria and was encouraged to pursue astronomy by Plaskett. He completed his undergraduate work at UBC in Vancouver and worked at the observatory during the summers. After completing his PhD at the University of Michigan, he was hired by the observatory. He was the director of the observatory from 1951 until his early death in 1966.

The observatory also attracted astronomers who wished to use the telescope. In 1919, S.L. Boothroyd, the head of astronomy at the University of Washington, visited. He spent his summer vacation as a volunteer assistant.