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Help the David Dunlap Observatory be given a Historical, Cultural and/or Natural Designation

Posted in
Written by Heide DeBond, Toronto on
Post Date: 
Wed, 2008/12/31

In 1935, the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) was presented to the University of Toronto by Jessie Donalda Dunlap as a memorial to her husband. Its goals of astronomical research, training of students at the University, and the fostering of public interest in astronomy have been met effectively since its inception. In the fall of 2007 the University of Toronto decided to sell the property and it was sold in July 2008.

A virtual tour of the observatory is here.

The David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) houses a telescope that is still the largest on Canadian soil. The telescope's primary mirror is 1.88 meters across and weighs 23 tonnes. Historically, the mirror was the first pyrex mirror cast and was the test mirror for the 200 inch telescope at Palomar. The DDO continued to produce viable scientific research and multiple publications each year.  This was achieved by taking observations using spectroscopy, and looking at objects in areas of the spectrum unaffected by urban lights, for example, the dark area at 5184A, close to the magnesium triplet and away from the sodium lines closer to 5900A. This was a perfect wavelength to study radial velocities of close, contact and eclipsing binaries. One of our most recent international observers said the DDO was instrumental in discovering that many of these binary systems were actually triple and quadruple systems. The DDO has also provided observations for MOST support and taking spectra of many novas and supernovas, and contributing data to several international publications and databases. NASA found our telescope efficient and effective enough to take observations from the DDO for their Kepler project.

Most famously, Dr. Tom Bolton found Cygnus-X1, the first black hole, using the 1.88 m telescope at DDO and has since used the telescope on a regular basis for his high end astrophysical research and international collaborations on major projects.

Due to the efforts of Dr. Bolton, Richmond Hill enacted light pollution abatement bylaws in 1995.  As well as hosting many visiting notable international astronomers, the DDO was home to many notable RASC supporters such as Helen Sawyer Hogg, Ruth Northcott, Wendy Freedman and Bob Garrison. The David Dunlap Observatory is also a source of great national pride!

Unfortunately, its future is in jeopardy due to pressures of urban development.  In documents publicly available at the Land Registry Office of Ontario, it can be found that in July 2008 the David Dunlap Observatory and parkland were purchased by the developer 'Metrus' for $70 million. This amount is well below market value ($370K per acre) whereas in Richmond Hill raw farmland sells for $600K per acre. The University of Toronto has agreed to take a $35 million mortgage interest free for 2 years until June 23, 2010. According to its plans, it is understood that Metrus intends to develop the lands into high density residential, high rises and retail space and it seems there is a rush to do this.

On January 15, 2009, the provincial Conservation Review Board hearings begin in order to decide the site's future. It will be argued by several groups to place historical, cultural and natural interest designations on the buildings and the land. The buildings and land qualify for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation but the application process takes approximately 5 years. Given the world-renowned history of the Dunlap property as a centre of astronomical research and its importance as a public space and urban wilderness, it deserves to be protected by the Ontario Heritage Act so it can continue to be enjoyed by current and future generations. It is our hope that the historic Dunlap Observatory will be designated so that it can be preserved and reopen soon as a working museum, research facility and will continue to provide a rich astronomy education experience for thousands of Canadian families.

Thousands of astronomy enthusiasts each year have looked through the 1.88 m telescope at amazing objects during the public tours.  Let us make sure that thousands more and generations to come will have the same opportunity to look at the heavens with this amazing telescope.

We need your help to save and protect the David Dunlap Observatory and the parkland surrounding it. We need your letters of support than can be presented in person to the Conservation Review Board at the hearing. Letters must be signed and received by January 14, 2009.  For the price of a postage stamp you can help save an important part of Canadian astronomical and historical heritage.  If you require further information, please contact me at hrdebond@hotmail.com. Please mail your letters to:

DDO Letter
c/o H. DeBond
1940 John St.
Thornhill, ON
L3T 1Z1

A sample letter that you could use is here:

Also, the following can be contacted (before Jan 15):
Richmond Hill Contact  
Dave Barrow
Mayor, Richmond Hill
Email: dbarrow@richmondhill.ca
 
Provincial Contacts


Aileen Carroll
Minister of Culture
900 Bay Street
5th Floor, Mowat Block
Toronto, Ontario  M7A 1L2
Email: info.mcl@ontario.ca

Reza Moridi
MPP Richmond Hill
Constituency Office
9891 Yonge St
Richmond Hill, ON L4C 1V1
http://www.rezamoridi.com/

Dalton McGuinty,
MPP (Ottawa South)
Premier and Minister of Research and Innovation
Room 281, Main Legislative Building
Toronto ON M7A 1A4
Tel: 416-325-1941
Fax: 416-325-3745
dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
 
The Honourable Jim Watson
Minister Municipal Affairs and Housing
777 Bay Street, 17th Floor
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5
Tel (416) 585-7000
Fax (416) 585-6470
Email: jwatson.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

John Gerretsen
MPP (Etobicoke-Lakeshore)
Minister of the Environment
135 St. Clair Ave W, 12th Floor
Toronto ON M4V 1P5
Tel: 416-314-6790
Fax: 416-314-6748

Federal Contacts


Prime Minister Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A2
Fax 613-941-6900
Email: pm@pm.gc.ca

The Honourable James M. Flaherty
Minister of Finance
140 O’Connor Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G5
Tel 905-665-8182
Fax 905-665-8124
Email: flaherty.j@parl.gc.ca

The Honorable James Moore
Minister of Heritage
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6
Tel 613-992-9650
Email: moorej@parl.gc.ca