History of the RASC Edmonton Centre 1960 – 1969

by Franklin Loehde

As the 1950’s came to an end for the Edmonton Centre one could see a decade of accomplishment and the stage set for a new and exciting era in astronomy in Edmonton and Alberta. And…. what could be a more dazzling portent of this exciting future with the sudden appearance of an exploding burst of pyrotechnics over Edmonton in the form of the Bruderheim Meteorite?

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At 1:06 a.m. on March 4, 1960 the fireball seared its way through the atmosphere north of the city near Bruderheim on a WNW to ESE trajectory exploding in the lower atmosphere with a sonic boom over the North Saskatchewan River valley spewing the remnants of what would be Canada’s largest-ever recovery of a celestial body. Thanks to the astute efforts of a lay geologist Stan Walker the general fall area was quickly determined and then finally cemented when a district farmer, Mark Broda, reported a piece of the meteorite in his very backyard! Our own members Ian McLennan and Earl Milton went out and were actually able to bring in a piece for the scheduled meeting. More importantly they quickly brought in the services of Dr. Peter Millman of the National Research Council in Ottawa and Dr. Bob Folinsbee of the University of Alberta’s Geology Department preserving the bonanza for science.

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The fall consisted of nearly 700 fragments, the largest 30.7 kg, with atotal of 303 kg in all and of the “chondrite” or stoney variety with visible specks of iron and nickle spread throughout. The very dark “burnt” crust of the fragments made them standout atop of the very thin layer of snow at the time. Later it was found we were looking at a 4.6 billion year old reminderof our distant past on fresh Alberta snow!

An exciting start to the 1960’s? For sure, but the Centre stalwarts always provided the settings for support. Names come to mind like Harold Montgomery, forever a treasurer and Alex Stockwell, who took on multiple challenges. Professor H. A. McGregor was there when we needed him.

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Earl Milton, about finished with his Ph.D in chemistry, rushed off to the National Meeting of the RASC to receive his newly-won Chant Medal for his excellent studies of aurora in Alberta garnered from the thousands of observations made by the Observers’ Group in the 1950’s.

Back home, Professors Gads and Keeping were checking out the new Spitz Star projector for the soon-to-be-completed Queen Elizabeth II planetarium, Canada’s first public facility. And, shortly after, with his now extensive background in television news journalism and science, our member Ian McLennan was appointed as the first Director of the facility. Many of the Centre’s members were feverishly engaged in preparing the first planetarium show for the official opening on September 22, 1960 and a new age of astronomy began. The immediate years to follow demonstrated a remarkably close relationship between members and the QEP with many of us involved in show presentations. The greatest fear most of us had was accidentally switching on the soffit lights which flooded the dome just after everyone of the enthralled was dark adapted!

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1961 saw a series of new Star Nights, beginning first at the QEP, then moved to the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium because of the sheer scope of the exhibits from around the world but especially NASA. In part they provided an opportunity to offset the recent closing of the University of Alberta Observatory to allow us to publicize the need for a new public observatory for Edmonton. Again accenting the need for joint community-RASC efforts we enlisted the then mayor of Edmonton, Dr. Elmer Roper, to serve on the new Observatory Committee.

The Star Nights at the “Jube” were highly successful at attracting Edmontonians despite having to pay admission. The exhibits, from NASA in particular, were spectacular and included Gemini capsules and the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) amongst others. Local members were involved in the building of mock-ups of different aspects of astronomy like the nearby solar system! The list of the contributors around the world were very impressive, especially in a non-computer network era. While the “new observatory” didn’t catch on we were certainly preparing Edmontonians for the coming space age to come as witnessed by our present meeting place here at the Odyssium.

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For many years the RASC held an annual “At-Home”, usually in March, in Toronto to conduct Society business. Recent happenings allowed us to lobby with our famous “Meteorites like Alberta better!” campaign and that convinced National Council to move the Annual Meeting to Edmonton and at the unheardof time of the long weekend in May. First time in western Canada too! Thus began the “GA” or General assembly as a family affair. The City of Edmonton, Province of Alberta and the Edmonton Centre were linked like never before and since. The success of the General Assembly was really a tribute to its members like E.S. and Silver Keeping, Doug and Janet Crosby, Ruby Campbell (wife of the now deceased J.W.), Fred and Peggie Jensen and Jim Harrington. Even their poetry captured their love of astronomy.

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A strong presence in the background was provided by Walter Franiel in the production process for Stardust. How many of us would have named one of our daughters Andromeda?

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The 1960’s saw the Edmonton Centre conduct its meetings, sometimes under very crowded conditions, in the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium and were blessed with the capable leadership of fine people like Drs. Harry Taylor, Lynn Trainor  and George Cummings from the University, Fred Jensen, Robert Allin, Angus Smith, Ralph Haeckle and Eldon “Buck” Roger. After the McLennans left including Adrienne as Stardust Editor the new leadership of the QEP continued with Directors David Rodger (November 1965 to July 1967) and Bill Cable and staff members like George Williams, a source of strength. New blood came in, like a very young David Roles and later a new Director John Hault. Names are missing here but their contributions live on. Let us not forget. We have had comet discovers and authoritative books written. Some have gone onto starry careers but all of us are so smitten by the stars that we want to pass on our love of the heavens to all that we meet.

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Moving into the 1970’s brought us a little closer to the vision we see today – that of the TELUS World of Science (nee Odyssium, nee the Edmonton Space & Science Centre, nee the Edmonton Space Sciences Centre). What is written in the stars for us in the Edmonton Centre? Surely the skies are the limit!

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To be continued …