An Archival Moment: Star gazing

Jenny Seeman
The Conservatory pre 1937

The HMCS Royal Roads yearbook for 1944, The Log, boasts that the “college is now equipped with a miniature Planetarium, supplied by the Peerless Planetarium Co. of Toronto, and built in the former conservatory.”

The planetarium had a dome of 21 feet in diameter, made from wood and plaster, and seated a class of fifty. The inner surface of the dome, when illuminated, demonstrated the constellations of a northern sky on the plane of the ecliptic, about 160 stars represented by chrome hemispheres of different magnitudes. The purpose of this "fixed" sky was to teach the constellations relative to each other and recognition of the "navigation" stars.

The planetarium when installed was the first of its kind on the continent, previous purpose built museums having been designed for general interest in astronomy and unrelated to training in celestial navigation.

The yearbook article explains: “when the interior is darkened, it is then possible by means of a star-projecting instrument to throw the stars on the dome as they would be seen from any latitude and at any time. Further, it is possible to speed up the apparent movements of the stars across the heavens to show rising and setting and change of azimuth and altitude, all of which is a great aid to our navigation classes… It is planned to conduct the celestial instruction in the Planetarium, where the actual presentation of the different planes will eliminate a certain amount of worry in the study of the celestial sphere.”

The Peerless Planetarium Company installed a few more planetariums in Canada, notably one at Forest Hill Village School in Toronto, which was lauded by the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada. However, the company quickly lost ground to the cheaper Spitz models that used a projecting ‘starball’ and did not require fixed chrome constellations on the dome itself. Another of Canada’s grand Edwardian homes, Casa Loma in Toronto, boasted a Spitz planetarium during the 1960s.

By 1954, the glass in the conservatory at HMCS Royal Roads had collapsed after a snowfall and there were no available funds for the necessary repairs. All that remains of the structure today is the stone foundation behind the greenhouse. The picture below shows the foundation as it was left in 1958.


Was the planetarium used very much? The teaching at Royal Roads moved fairly early on from ‘training’ to more academic instruction. Maybe the planetarium, while installed with great anticipation for its usefulness, quickly became superfluous technology. Note that by 1957, ‘toy planetariums’, which could project stars on a child’s bedroom ceiling, were widely available.

Do you remember the planetarium at HMCS Royal Roads, or have any pictures of the inside? Do you remember when the conservatory was removed from the site? If you have stories about the uses of the various buildings on campus over time, share them with the archives!