The History of Astronomy in Canada

The earliest astronomical observations in what is now Canada were scattered sightings made as early as 1612 by Arctic explorers, and occasional sightings of comets and eclipses recorded by French missionaries as early as 1618. Jesuit missionaries recorded an eclipse on October 17, 1632. One of the earliest observatories in North America was that built by the Marquis De Chabertin in 1750, at Louisbourg. There is evidence that Joseph Fredrick Wallet Desbarres built a small observatory in 1765, at Castle Fredrick, Nova Scotia, for testing his surveying instruments. In 1850, an observatory was constructed on the Citidel at Quebec City to support the requirements of marine navigation.

Canadian astronomy shows a pattern of parallel development in the universities and federal government agencies. The provinces have been involved indirectly through their general support of university development. The federal government made its first provision for astrophysical research with the establishment of the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, in 1905. This facility was equipped with a refracting telescope, and a reflecting solar telescope, in addition to transit instruments for positional astronomy.

The first Canadian Department of Astronomy was established at the University of Toronto, (U of T), in 1904, and in 1933, through the efforts of Dr. Chant, the university acquired the David Dunlap Observatory. In 1967, Canadian astronomer, Ian Shelton discovered a supernova outburst in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a major astronomical event, with this same telescope.

In 1971, the U of T inaugurated the first Canadian telescope operating in the Southern Hemisphere at Las Campanas, Chile.