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Peerless Planetarium

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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.

 

PEERLESS PLANETARIUM
COMPANY LIMITED
121 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
PHONE ELGIN 1846

UNQUALIFIED COMMENDATION BY HIGHEST AUTHORITIES

DR. CLYDE FISHER—Curator in Chief. Department of Astronomy and the Hayden Planetarium. American Museum of Natural History, New York City: "I am intimately familiar with the Peerless Planetarium, having used it myself in my classes in Elementary Astronomy and Geography .... It lays the foundation of the essential basic causes of natural and human phenomena which every student should comprehend. . . . An excellent teaching instrument. Really I cannot speak too highly of it.... A wonderful teaching device . . . has a wide range of usefulness in teaching Astronomy, Meteorology, and Geography,"

DR. C. A. CHANT—David Dunlap Observatory. University of Toronto. Ontario, Canada: "I examined it with some care. It illustrated quite satisfactorily various phenomena of the solar system. ... To teach the motions of the celestial bodies, good models are almost indispensable,"

MR. JAMES E. KAVANAGH—Prominent New York City Business Executive: "I want to congratulate you on what you have done. I was very favorably impressed with the graphic manner in which you present to students the movements of the Sun, Moon, and Earth, together with the results that follow the various solar movements. You have something that is too good to keep under a bushel. It ought to be possible for every boy and girl, and millions of men and women, to have a proper appreciation of the way in which at least a portion of our wonderful universe functions,"

DR. GRIFFITH TAYLOR—Professor of Geography. University of Toronto. Ontario, Canada: ".. an apparatus, the Peerless Planetarium, for demonstrating a number of fundamental problems in Astronomy, Geography, and Allied Sciences, which seems to me of great merit."

DR. RALPH E. HORTON—Chairman, Standing Committee on Science. Board of Education. New York City: "Thank you again for demonstrating the device to us. I must admit that I was agreeably surprised by the way the performance of the Peerless Planetarium confirmed what you told me about it in advance. It is the most authentic, objective, exposition of the relations of the Sun, Earth, and Moon,and the consequences of their mutual motions, that I have ever seen:'

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY OF CANADA—Resolution passed after full demonstration of the Peerless Planetarium: "Believing that the teaching of Geography would be greatly assisted by the use of the Peerless Planetarium, we commend it to the consideration of educational authorities."

MR. V. K. GREER—Chief Inspector of Public and Separate Schools. Province of Ontario. Canada: "The finest piece of educational apparatus I have seen,"

 

 

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Year: 
1945
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2