The End of Observation

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The End of Observation

The sun sets on the David Dunlap Observatory
In a September news release, the University of Toronto announced in a roundabout way its intention to sell the historic David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill to the highest bidder. Opened in 1935 and home to the second-largest telescope in the world at the time (and still the largest in Canada), the Observatory was overrun by light pollution by the 1960s. Although no longer very suitable for visual astronomy, the DDO continues an active role in several studies. Indeed, its own website lists information about recent discoveries and observations made at the facility, and current publications that use data gathered there, putting the lie to the University’s claim that it no longer holds “academic and research relevance.” Besides research, it’s still a popular destination for public tours and educational programs.
Despite Richmond Hill’s recent moves toward preserving the entire 190-acre site as a public park with the historic observatory buildings as the centrepiece, the municipality is unlikely to be able to compete with the deep pockets of developers who may pay as much as $100 million for the potential to subdivide such a huge site in the middle of town. The most likely outcome in that case is that the buildings and some immediate parkland around them will be preserved, while the bulk of the site gets chopped up into yet another cookie-cutter subdivision. The worst-case outcome would be the gutting of the heritage buildings themselves under the guise of preservation.
In addition to a Save David Dunlap Observatory Facebook group, there are at least three separate organizations putting forward plans to preserve the Observatory: the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Save the DDO, and the Richmond Hill Naturalists. Whatever the eventual outcome, you can bet that it’ll take years for the cosmic dust to settle.
Photo by fermata.daily from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

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