Tuesday, November 26, 2013

TV news coverage of plans to restore public access to Saanich Observatory

CTV Vancouver Island and CHEK TV report on plans to re-open the Centre of the Universe and restore public access to the Saanich Observatory, November 25 2013.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Exciting plans to restore public access to Saanich Observatory!

Attendees of stakeholder meeting, Nov 23 2013 
Nov 23 Meeting, Stakeholder attendees
Dear Friends of the Saanich Observatory,

On Saturday morning I chaired a meeting at the National Research Council (NRC)’s Astrophysics headquarters. 30 stakeholders came together to discuss how best to restore public access to the Saanich Observatory. 

Attendees included Dan Wayner, the NRC Vice President, and Greg Fahlman, the General Manager of the Observatory and Herzberg Institute, as well as the Dean of Engineering, Tom Tiedje, an Astrophysics Professor from UVIC, Sara Ellison, a Vice-President from the Royal Museum of BC, Janet MacDonald, prominent local business people, public school science teachers, and six long-time astronomy volunteers with the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada (RASC). A full list of attendees is in the sidebar image. I want to genuinely thank them all for their positive engagement and excellent contributions.

By the end of the three hour meeting we had agreement on the outlines of a plan to re-open the Centre of the Universe and restore public access to the Saanich Observatory! 

Of course there is a ton of work left to do, but we are now well on our way.

The NRC agreed to pay for all the infrastructure, maintenance, utility and security costs for the Centre of the Universe. They also agreed to negotiate free public access to the Observatory so regular Saturday night viewings could resume.

Centre of the Universe could reopen next spring

By Kyle Wells - Victoria News
Published: November 25, 2013 10:00 AM 
Updated: November 25, 2013 10:57 AM

Victoria stargazers will once again be looking to the skies, thanks to a tentative deal to reopen Centre of the Universe for Saturday nights beginning in April 2014.

The National Research Council, the operator of the Saanich-based facility, has agreed to give the public access to the Plaskett telescope on Saturdays and to provide a person to operate it. All other roles for the astronomy public outreach facility will be filled by volunteers from the Victoria branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, who are at the facility regularly on Saturdays anyway, using their own telescopes.

NRC will also provide upkeep to the building, security and a person who is trained to run the telescope.

Deal close to reopen Centre of the Universe for students and public viewings

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham the Centre of the Universe in
the summer, kicking off a a bid to keep the Saanich facility open.
A deal to do that is now close.  Photo: BRUCE  STOTESBURY, TC.

The stars are aligning for the Centre of the Universe to light up again for Saturday night gazing by students if a tentative agreement is sealed.
The centre is an interpretive centre adjacent to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road. It closed its doors on Aug. 24.

CFAX breaks story of tentative deal to restore public access to Saanich Observatory

CFAX Clip of Nov 25 2013 Al Ferraby interview of MLA Popham CFAX

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Update: Community leaders coming together to reopen Saanich Observatory

Dear Friend of the Saanich Observatory,

How about a little good news? Our effort to restore public access to Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and reopen the Centre of the Universe is moving forward!

Through my non-partisan Constituency Office, I have connected over the last two months with more than a dozen community leaders. As it turns out, they all share the same goal: restore public access to the Saanich Observatory!

I’ve received encouragement and input from a group that includes astronomy buffs, the President of the National Research Council (NRC) and the General Manager of the NRC Herzberg; the Presidents of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada, Victoria Chapter; the President of the Prospect Lake Community Association; UVIC staff, students, Professors and Deans; elected officials at the school board, municipal, provincial and federal levels; successful business owners, tourist operators and astronomy educators in Saanich and the region; the CEO of the Royal BC Museum; BC Government representatives in the areas of heritage, technology and tourism; and of course teachers, parents and children.

To further our shared goal, I am organizing a meeting for stakeholders in late November at the Observatory itself. I will update you after that meeting but I am always open to hearing your input and am building a list of people who like to be involved - please be in touch!

It is my privilege to actively assist this community effort. Please have a look at my Comment in yesterday's Times Colonist for my perspective on this issue.

I look forward to hearing your reflections, and to working with you to realize a successful future for this historic site.

Warm regards,


Lana Popham
MLA Saanich South
P: 250.479.4154 | F: 250.479.4176
lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca | saanichsouth.ca

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Times Colonist: We should reopen observatory to the public

Courtesy of BC Archives, Royal BC Museum
Times Colonist, Comment Page, A11, by Lana Popham, 29 Oct 2013

Federal budget cuts closed the Saanich Observatory to the public last summer; public effort can ensure it is reopened.
There may be no better place in Canada to look at the stars than right here in Saanich. That is why, 100 years ago, Little Saanich Mountain was chosen as the site for what became the most powerful telescope in the world.
Construction of the observatory began in 1914 under the leadership of Canada’s top astronomer of the day, John Stanley Plaskett. Two years later, the site was ready for the telescope’s 9.5-tonne polar axis. It took 12 draft horses a day and a half to cart it to the top. The final piece needed was an enormous Belgian-cast glass mirror that was carefully turned on its side and rolled like a dime into the Observatory. There it was silvered and mounted in place and the observatory captured its first images on May 6, 1918.
The observatory is a beautiful icon of science and it should surprise no one that it is a National Historic Site. But what does surprise many is that this old telescope is still used today for cutting-edge scientific work. A state-of-the-art digital back-end is now strapped to its enormous mirrored eye, making it 10,000 times more sensitive than when first built.
Astronomers from around the world use the telescope. Beside the observatory is the Herzberg Institute, a sprawling complex run by the National Research Council. It is the centre of astronomy in Canada with 150 employees on site and an annual budget of about $30 million. Much of this money is spent locally, making a significant contribution to our local economy.
One of the main activities undertaken at NRC Herzberg is the development of technology. For example, sophisticated hardware — made up of components measured in micrometres — is fabricated and used in astronomical equipment around the world and in outer space. Herzberg also houses an enormous data centre. It is a key global hub of astronomical knowledge, sending out terabytes of data to researchers around the world.
Over the past decade, the federal government funded excellent public-outreach efforts at the observatory. In 2001, it built an interpretive centre, the Centre of the Universe, and since then has invested about $250,000 a year in public outreach.
That investment led to many activities, including public Saturday night star viewings, sci-fi movies projected on the side of the observatory, regular busloads of people on heritage and tourist visits, intensive youth summer camps and tens of thousands of public visits and school class trips.
This last point is, in my view, the greatest value to the community. Our children benefit enormously from witnessing high-level science in action and learning about the universe from top NRC staff and scientists. Many young people have been inspired to pursue the sciences from their experiences at the Saanich Observatory.
All of this outreach came to a crashing halt last summer with an announcement by the federal government that, for the first time in its history, there would be no public access to the Saanich Observatory. You can still climb the hill at certain times, but at the top you will find the Centre of the Universe closed and the historic observatory itself is off-limits to the public. The change was described by the government as a cost-saving measure, even though the expense was a minuscule 0.02 per cent of the $950-million NRC budget.
But this story is not over!
The abrupt closure had an unintended consequence: It sparked thousands of people to learn about what they were losing and they soon came together to push for a better outcome. Media coverage of the impending closure led almost 1,000 people to try to visit on the final public night — and almost every one of them signed a petition calling for funding of public access to be restored.
I have organized a meeting in the observatory on Nov. 23 to help us move in that direction. Key stakeholders — including NRC staff, public educators, heritage experts, University of Victoria professors, local business people and other community leaders — will come together for the first time. Together, we can convert the tremendous passion in the community for the observatory into a plan to reopen it to the public.
When the Plaskett telescope took its first pictures 100 years ago, astronomers thought there was just one galaxy, our Milky Way. Today we believe there are at least 100 billion galaxies out there, each with 300 billion stars! The Saanich Observatory is our window onto the universe. We must work together to ensure public access is restored.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Video from the Centre of the Universe's "final night"

Check out these videos about the closing of the Centre of the Universe - taken on the last day scheduled for public access. Lana

More than a 1000 people demonstrated support for Saanich Observatory on 'final night'

Click image to see more photos.
More than a thousand people attempted to visit the Saanich Observatory on August 24 2013, the last evening scheduled for public attendance. Most were turned away, as the facility can accommodate less than 200 people at a time. 

I stayed at the bottom of Little Saanich Hill for six hours, taking in the public's disappointment and frustration at the decision to end public access to the Saanich Observatory. I also collected more than 600 signatures on a petition calling on the Federal Government to re-instate funding for the Centre. 

This fight isn't over! I will continue to work on this issue until public access is restored. Please join the private email list - a sign-up form is to your left - so I can update you on this campaign. (Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

And check out great photographs from the 'final night'. Wonderful images to inspire us: we'll be back up there again!!


Lana Popham
MLA Saanich South

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Centre’s closure a symbol of Canada’s misguided science policy: Editorial

For more than a decade, at the Centre of the Universe kids learned while looking out into the vastness of deep space that our modest blue planet is not, in fact, the centre of the universe. Now, due to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s industry-oriented redesign of our national science agency, the popular education facility has been senselessly closed.

The centre, which opened its doors in 2001 and shuttered them likely for good last week, is among the first casualties of the recent misguided makeover of the National Research Council. The federal government announced in May that the NRC, once a leader in pure research and science education, will now dedicate itself to large-scale industry-driven research projects, effectively transforming its $900-million budget into a business subsidy.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

‘Impractical’ research lights the way

AUGUST 31, 2013
No lights shine in the Centre of the Universe today. The staff who ran the interpretive centre at Little Saanich Mountain’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory cleaned out their desks Friday, turned out the light and vacated the building. So ends 12 years of educational programming about astronomy and Canada’s place in scientific research.

Monday, August 26, 2013

As Centre of the Universe readies to close, fight to keep it open continues

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham plans to collect signatures outside
the Centre of the Universe today in a bid to keep the Saanich facility
open. The act is more a celebration than a protest, she says.
Photograph by: BRUCE STOTESBURY, Times Colonist 
AUGUST 23, 2013
After members of the public peer through the telescope at the Centre of the Universe for the last time tonight, a campaign to save the science education centre will continue.
Saanich South MLA Lana Popham plans to be at the centre today collecting signatures for a petition asking the federal government to restore funding to the centre, the public education arm of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.
“I don’t believe that closing the Centre of the Universe is an option,” Popham said Friday.
“Whether or not the federal funding comes back, for me at this point, it’s beside the point. We have to figure out a way to keep it going.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stephen Hume: Federal budget cuts to close renowned astronomy centre

Photograph by: Diana Nethercott , Vancouver Sun


There are people, as Oscar Wilde famously said, who know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

So, with that in mind, I made my way to the top of Little Saanich Mountain last weekend to bid a bittersweet farewell to The Centre of the Universe, due to close its doors at the end of August, one of the least deserving victims of Ottawa’s spending cuts.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Support the Saanich Observatory!

Don’t let the Centre of the Universe go dark!

Visit the Centre, see the telescope in action, and:
Demonstrate your support for public access to the Saanich Observatory!

Sat Aug 24
Observatory Hill, 5071 West Saanich Rd.

This is the last day the Centre & Observatory are
scheduled to be open to the public.

Local MLAs and MPs will be there to hear your views about this issue
and with a petition you can sign.

3:30pm    Centre of the Universe opens
5-7:00pm See the Sun through a telescope*
9:00pm    Plaskett telescope turns on*
*Weather willing, limited space - arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Sliding scale, from $5.75 to $13.50
Children under 4 free
Family passes available

For more info:
Saanich South MLA Lana Popham | 250.479.4154 | | lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca

Monday, July 29, 2013

Momentum growing to maintain public access to the Saanich Observatory

The Centre of the Universe is perched atop Observatory Hill, next to the most important astrophysical facility in Canada, the Herzberg Institute, and right beside the Dominion Observatory which holds one of Canada's largest and most powerful telescopes. Soon we'll celebrate this telescope's 100th birthday - but will the public be invited to the party?

The Federal Conservative government has announced it is withdrawing the $250,000 needed annually to keep the Centre open.

I'm also concerned that this change could be a prelude to further cuts to the Observatory's funding and that it could be followed by additional restrictions on the public's access to Observatory Hill.

The Saanich Observatory is an important part of Victoria. It is a tourist draw, a regular component of the training routine for many cyclists, a beloved destination for star-lovers and amateur astronomers and -- most importantly -- a place where thousands of students have been awed by space and even inspired to pursue the sciences.

Observatory Hill is located within the provincial Constituency of Saanich South and dozens of residents have contacted me already to ask that I work to maintain public access. I will do my very best!

The value of this asset to the public far exceeds the cost of keeping it open. Our challenge is to make that argument persuasively to both levels of government. With your help I am confident we can do it.

This Global News piece to the right will give you an overview of where things are at right now.

I've also included the complete Hansard video of a Question Period exchange on this subject from last week so you can see for yourself what the Provincial Liberal Government is doing about this situation.

This week I am consulting widely with individuals determined to keep the "Centre of the Universe" open and preserve public access to Observatory Hill. I will share our strategy for moving forward soon.

Warm regards,


Lana Popham
MLA, Saanich South

Monday, July 22, 2013

Join the fight to save the 'Centre of the Universe'

Thousands of students (and many adults too!) have benefited from visiting the "Centre of the Universe".

And if you haven't, you best not delay as there will be only a few more opportunities to do so if the Federal Government carries through on its misguided plan to shut down the public's access to this interactive education Centre at the end of August 2013.

It is one of the only places on the south Island where the public can directly engage with high-level scientific endeavors. Every year many students visit the Centre and gain an appreciation of the power and awesomeness of outer space. Canada needs new generations of scientists and we know that the Centre has inspired many to pursue education and work in scientific fields. We must increase opportunities for our youth to engage with science. The decision to close the Centre takes us in the opposite direction.

The Official Opposition in Ottawa has released a formal petition calling on the government to keep the Centre open. It will be presented to the Federal Parliament in the Fall. You can sign it at my office, 4085 Quadra, Monday-Thursday 9:30am-5:00pm.

Please contact me at lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca if you would like to help in the fight to keep the Centre open.



PS. You can also download the petition here, print it out and collect your own signatures!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Save the Centre of the Universe petition launched

Media Release

July 19th, 2013 - 2:23pm

19 July 2013
NDP MPs speak out against cuts to science on Vancouver Island
VICTORIA, BC - Today, Official Opposition Science and Technology Critic Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby – Douglas) and Member of Parliament Randall Garrison (Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca), launched a petition calling on the Government of Canada to restore the funding for public outreach in astronomy and astrophysics at the Centre of the Universe at Saanich’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.
“The Harper Conservatives have abandoned science in their rush to focus support on resource extraction industries,” said Garrison. “For many years, The Centre of the Universe has provided students, families, and amateur astronomy buffs with opportunities to explore space. This facility and its staff inspire the next generation of Vancouver Island scientists, but instead of investing in our future the Harper Conservatives once again ignores the needs and the aspirations of our region.”
“The closure of Centre of the Universe is just another example of how this Conservative Government is undermining science capacity in Canada,” added Stewart. “Labs across the country are closing down or cutting their workforce because fundamental research is no longer seen as worth the investment – and short-sighted decisions like these undermine long-term scientific progress and the necessary transition we must make towards a knowledge-based economy. New Democrats will continue to stand up for fundamental research, scientific freedoms and evidence-based policymaking.”
MPs Garrison and Stewart were joined by MLA Lana Popham (Saanich South) who stressed the negative impacts on her community. "The Centre is one of the few places on the south Island where the public can interact – and be inspired – by science in action. It is a tourist attraction, and a rare public asset that inspires our youth to pursue the sciences. The decision to let the Centre of the Universe go dark shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of engaging the public in the pursuit of science. " Popham said.
Please print and sign the petition attached to send to Randall in Ottawa. Postage is free, just address it to Randall Garrison, MP - House of Commons - Ottawa, ON - K1A 0A6

Friday, June 28, 2013

Comment: Outreach facilities can help launch careers

Megan Tannock

Everyone who has lived in Victoria has seen the iconic white dome of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Observatory Hill. I remember asking my parents what it was when I was very young; when they explained to me what a telescope is for, I begged for one of my own.

One year for Christmas, my parents had a special surprise for my brother and me — our very own telescope, which I use to this day. Later, I was able to visit the Centre of the Universe on Observatory Hill and see the Plaskett Telescope.
Seeing the telescope and learning about the research that can be done with it helped me realize I wanted to devote my life to science. I attend the University of Victoria and I am completing my bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy, with the intention of continuing on to graduate school to obtain my doctorate in astrophysics. Because of the accessibility of the facilities on Observatory Hill, I was able to make the decision of what I wanted to study at a young age. Thanks to the opportunities in my hometown, my career in science is well on its way.
Outreach for astronomy, and for all sciences, is extremely important to the future of scientific research and the knowledge of the public in Canada. One of the top outreach facilities in Victoria is the Centre of the Universe. It is an important learning facility, tourist attraction and landmark. It provides summer camps for children, outreach for local schools, an interpretive centre open to the public and tours of the Plaskett Telescope, a national historical site which has been in operation since 1918.
In addition to the public outreach, it provides valuable opportunities for post-secondary students from across Canada to work in the field they are studying and share their passion for science with the public.
The decision to close the centre is simply outrageous. A facility like this, so closely linked with a world-class research centre (the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics), is unique and irreplaceable.
If the Centre of the Universe closes, many children and adults will miss out on learning about the universe we live in. What will be closed next?
Without the Centre of the Universe, who knows if my passion for science would have been sparked at all? Thanks to the centre, I will have an exciting and valuable career in science, helping to push Canada forward in the scientific world.
Without the centre and similar facilities, how will the young scientists of the future discover their passions? Yes, it can be argued that some people will find their passions in science regardless, but most people require access to these facilities to learn about the possibilities of a future in science. Some of the most brilliant, life-changing scientific ideas of the future exist within Canadians; without outreach programs like this, they may never be discovered.
Canadians need to find ways to make their government realize that it is not OK to take facilities like this away from the public. Saving a small amount of money is no excuse to close something as valuable as the Centre of the Universe.
Politicians focus only on their four-year terms, investing in projects that show immediate results to impress the public; perhaps they have forgotten the importance of long-term investments that extend past their re-election date.
Canadians deserve access to outreach facilities to learn about science. We owe it to children and young people to give them the tools they need to make choices about their lives. Instead of thinking about ways to save money right now, the government needs to make investments to inspire the scientists of the future, continue making scientific advances and keep Canada in the forefront of scientific research.
Megan Tannock, born and raised in Metchosin, is a University of Victoria student studying physics and astronomy.

© Copyright 2013

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Times Colonist: Centre of the Universe in Saanich closing by summer’s end in bid to pare costs

General Manager Greg Fahlman says it's unfortunate the
Centre of the Universe is closing, but tough choices had to
be made. Photograph by: ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist
The astronomy interpretive centre adjacent to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road will shut its doors to the public, the federal government confirmed Thursday.
Cost-cutting was cited as the reason; $245,000 will be saved in wages for three staff — one full time and two part time — plus $32,000, which includes maintenance, utilities and taxes. The full-time staffer will be moved to another federal job.
“The activities of the centre will no longer be sustained due to financial constraints,” said Charles Drouin, chief spokesman for the National Research Council Canada, in a phone interview.
The centre opened in 2001 as an educational arm of the observatory, a national historic site. In 2012 it attracted about 10,000 people, including busloads of school children, seniors groups and tourists to see things such as an iron meteorite — bringing in $47,000 in revenue.
“It’s unfortunate those things are going to stop,” said Greg Fahlman, general manager of the centre and the observatory, which employs 110 people.
Education for the public is a necessary part of astronomy research at the observatory — it’s why the centre was built — but tough choices had to be made and priorities chosen, Fahlman said.
The observatory is anchored by the Plaskett telescope, built beginning in 1914 and in operation since May 1918. For six months, with a 1.8-metre aperture, it was the biggest telescope in the world, said Chris Gainor, national vice- president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. “I am very sorry to hear this news,” Gainor said. “The telescope is quite historic … and it’s nearing its 100th anniversary.”
There are no plans to repurpose or “bulldoze” the centre, said Fahlman.
“The building itself will not be torn down and we are very mindful that this is part of Victoria. This [adjacent observatory] dome is visible almost everywhere in the city,” Fahlam said.
“What we are currently doing is searching for ways of delivering appropriate levels of access to the grounds and the telescope and we just haven’t got our heads around how to do that without the Centre of the Universe.”
Drouin said the hope is that volunteers will open the building on weekends.
He said in the absence of the centre, young people will have access to astronomy websites and smartphone applications.
Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca NDP MP Randall Garrison, who represents the observatory area, said he can’t grasp axing a hands-on community program promoting science and technology. “It drives you crazy.”
Green party Leader Elizabeth May called news of the centre closing “outrageous” and said the interactive centre is irreplaceable. “It’s one of those penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions which so typifies the Stephen Harper administration,” said the Saanich-Gulf Islands MP.
Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin called the closure “a serious blow” to the community. “This has to be understood in the broader context of what the Conservative government is doing to the scientific base of Canada,” Rankin said.