The history of the modern planetarium in Canada goes back farther than we may be aware. Until the early 20th century the word 'planetarium' could be understood to mean several different types of instruments, that we might now recognize as orreries, planispheres, astronomical clocks, etc. One such was Wyld's Globe, a hollow sphere more than 18 metres wide. This functioned as an inverted globe of the Earth with geographical features modelled on the inside in plaster of Paris, with a scaffolding for paying visitors to climb up and study. Wyld's Globe stood in Leicester Square in London, England for ten years in the mid-19th Century.
In 1913 the Atwood Sphere was built in Chicago: a 4.6-metre sphere with 692 pinprick holes letting in light in patterns of the constellations. A great deal of change has taken place in the subsequent 100 years, with the planetarium coming to mean an optical projection system as manufactured by companies like Zeiss, Spitz or Minolta, and then a computerized projection system using various DLP projectors as supplied by some of the same suppliers and some new ones.
One of the forgotten dead ends on this journey led into Canada, where the Peerless Planetarium Company originated somewhere in Toronto or Brantford, Ontario. An example of the Peerless instrument may have made its way to New York and Philadelphia, but most surviving documentation relates to the installation at Forest Hill Village School in Toronto.
The pretext for this instrument was the training of officers in navigation and other sciences at the end of the Second World War. It was described in the Toronto Star on 21 March 1945, the day after a field trip of the RASC Toronto Centre met in its dome. The Star noted the Peerless again in Frank Hogg's 'With the Stars' column on 30 March 1946, noting the importance of having a planetarium in Toronto relative to the Adler in Chicago, the Fels in Philadelphia and the Hayden in New York City. The Toronto Centre visit was written up in the Journal of the RASC in early 1946. The Hamilton Centre of the Society also visited the Peerless, on 6 May 1948, and were mentioned in the JRASC's annual reports in early 1949. Hamilton was one of the first cities to have a Spitz Model A-1 planetarium installed later that same year. This was about twenty years before the now-defunct McLaughlin Planetarium opened in Toronto in 1968, partly inspired by a bequest from RASC stalwart Carl Reinhardt.
At some time after the Hamilton visit the Forest Hill School planetarium, which took up space in one of the school's gymnasiums, was disassembled and disappeared. There are a few references in the early 1960s to a planetarium at Casa Loma about a mile away, but nothing definite to suggest that it was the same one.
The Peerless Planetarium operated at a time when the definition of the word "planetarium" was becoming concrete. The Peerless was contained in a wooden cabinet that could be opened out and set up. When it was on display, it included models of the Sun and Moon on rotating arms, and a globe of the Earth showing surface details and wind directions. It was set up in some kind of dome, but the dome seems to have been a pinprick-style thing rather than a screen for a starball to project onto. It was not competitive with more recognizable instruments from Spitz and Zeiss.
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