by Franklin Loehde
During 1932 Edmontonians with an interest in astronomy, and largely associated with the University of Alberta, prepared a petition requesting the recognition of the Edmonton Centre of the R.A.S.C. It was recognized before year’s end. The driving force for the group was Dr. John W. Campbell, the Head of the Mathematics Department at the University of Alberta. His boundless energy and steadfastness encouraged a legion of star-lovers and his competence was eventually recognized by the national membership when he was elected as President of the Society in 1947-48. In addition to serving locally as Centre President and then Honourary President he gave countless talks on a great variety of topics of interest to members.
Dr. Campbell & his colleagues were able to draw numerous distinguished visitors to the Centre meetings from all across Canada and abroad. Monthly lectures on current topics of the day were a regular feature of meetings at the University of Alberta’s Arts Building. Even an eclipse expedition to the Northwest Territories made its way to the Centre.
During the 1930’s the Centre organized a provincial fireball reporting program and we have, in our possession, the many thank-you’s to Albertans for their reports.
Membership during this period included a mayor of Edmonton, President and Department Heads of the University of Alberta etc.
As early as 1936 the Centre, under the leadership of Prof. E.S. Keeping, tried to convince the powers-to-be of the wisdom of building a planetarium in Edmonton. While unsuccessful at that time this very same person, E.S. Keeping, was successful in 1960!
In the early ’30’s a real star entered the orbit of the Edmonton Centre in the person of the Renaissance Man, Cyril G. Wates. This gifted man, a telephone engineer by trade, had a mastery over many diverse fields. He was a poet, a writer of science fiction novels1, composed music, a mountaineer (a President of the Alpine Club of Canada) and a master telescope builder. A prolific writer he wrote for distinguished journals and magazines like the Scientific American and graced their front cover in October 1935 with his home-made 9″ telescope in-front-of his home on the eastern extension of Jasper Avenue overlooking the North Saskatchewan River! Do you see the need for an appropriate memorial plate there? Recognition for his work by the Society came in the form of the Chant Medal in 1943, an award not tendered to an Edmonton member again until 1960 when Earl Milton received for his work on aurora in Alberta.
Cyril Wates talent and hard work eventually produced an extremely fine 12.5 inch telescope that was truly state-of-the-art. So good was it that he donated it to the University of Alberta in 1942 and the University completed the U of A Observatory the following year on the NE corner of what is now the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium parking lot. It was to be the focus of activity for the Centre’s members for years to come. In addition to the large scope it held an excellent 4″ refractor, a transit and, eventually, Wates’ 9″ reflector. Saturday nights at the Observatory, under the early direction of Dr. Campbell, were lively times on what was a much-darker site than we see today.The 1930’s and ’40’s were exciting times for the Edmonton Centre and fortunately we have extensive materials which should eventually wind up in the Alberta Provincial Archives so that it is never lost .to our members and Albertans. Among them are the complete meeting minutes, members and guests in attendance and those people who signed in at the U of A Observatory.
1 Many of Cyril Wates’ science fiction stories were published in Amazing Stories and are available through the internet. No records have been found of his poetry or music but may exist in England with relatives.