Stargazers and night sky watchers in Richmond Hill will soon have a new place to enjoy the starry sky. Despite ongoing concerns regarding cost overruns, the city anticipates that the ongoing renovations to the Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory, located at 123A Hillsview Dr., will be completed by the spring.
As part of the Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory Short Term Rehabilitation Work project, which began in May 2020, the exteriors of the limestone-clad administration building and the white observatory dome will be restored.
This 76.5-hectare park, owned by the City of Richmond Hill, is envisioned to become one of the best public parks in the Greater Toronto Area, or Richmond Hill’s “High Park,” as Mayor Dave Barrow once described it.
“It will be a treasured place that embodies discovery, education, sustainability and inclusion and, in so doing, forms part of the identity of Richmond Hill,” said Bob Levesque, director of infrastructure delivery services, planning and infrastructure department. There’ll be a lot to see at Canada’s historic observatory, but visitors can also enjoy natural parkland and celebrate the stars, said Levesque.
The restoration and revitalization of the facility are central to the Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory Short Term Rehabilitation Work project, which cost $5.7 million and was paid for entirely with parkland development funds, explains Paolo Masaro, executive director of infrastructure and engineering services at the City of Richmond Hill.
“It will be a treasured place that embodies discovery, education, sustainability and inclusion and, in so doing, forms part of the identity of Richmond Hill,” Masaro says. He adds that visitors will be able to take advantage of recently built 2.25 kilometres of trails to “provide connectivity to the surrounding neighbourhoods and greater use of the park.” The entire restoration project is aiming to wrap up by 2023.
The outside dome shell had taken a beating over the years, due to snow and hail, according to Pietro Frenguelli, a partner at +VG Architects and the project manager for the DDO restoration, which is now complete. Despite it having diminished in actual function over the years as more advanced technology has replaced traditional observatories, “The history and legacy of the DDO was a landmark for the purpose it was built for,” he explains, choosing his words carefully.
As part of Richmond Hill’s first national historic sites designation, restoration work on the Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory started less than a year ago. The observatory’s cultural heritage had been fought for 10 years by residents, city officials, council members and the stargazing community, who had jointly worked to preserve it.
The main telescope at the DDO — the second largest in the world when it was opened back in 1935 — has been involved in a great number of significant studies in radio astronomy and revealed the first evidence that Cygnus X-1 was a black hole.
As a regional centre for education, the observatory offers an array of programs for members of the community, including summer camps for youth, astronomy-themed speaker nights, lectures, and historical tours.
Recently, the DDO has also grown in popularity in the film industry, becoming a location for many hit television shows and commercials, including Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” and CBC TV’s “Baroness Von Sketch.”