52. First Government Observatory (1905)

First Government Observatory

In 1905, the Dominion Observatory opened in Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm as the centrepiece of a collection of buildings purpose-built for science. Its co-founders William King and Otto Klotz were scientists of national repute, and they worked closely with architect David Ewart to ensure the building would serve as a world-class centre for astronomical and geophysical research.

The Observatory is now adjacent to busy Carling Avenue, but in 1905 this was a rural location remote from the city and its lights. Dark skies were an important consideration as the Observatory’s main purpose was to make astronomical observations for establishing precise time signals for use across Canada, and accurate latitude and longitudinal information. Geophysical research and earthquake monitoring were other important parts of the Observatory’s mandate – in fact, the Observatory’s seismographs recorded the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.   

In 1970, national timekeeping and astronomical activities were transferred to the National Research Council and the geophysical activities became the Earth Physics Branch, later merging with the Geological Survey of Canada. The Survey’s Canadian Hazards Information Service  still operates in a building adjacent to the Dominion Observatory.

Category: Buildings and Places

Decade: 1900s


Hodgson, J.H., 1989. The Heavens Above and the Earth Beneath, A History of the Dominion Observatories: part 1, to 1946; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 1945, 193 p. doi:10.4095/130751

Hodgson, J.H., 1994. The Heavens Above and the Earth Beneath, A History of the Dominion Observatories: part 2, 1946 – 1970; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 1945, 257 p. doi:10.4095/220394

Brooks, R. and Klatt, C., 2005. The Dominion Observatory 100th Anniversary. http://www.casca.ca/ecass/issues/2005-me/features/brooks/e-Cassi_DomObsV4.htm

ASTROLab, 2006. The Dominion Observatory; Virtual Museum Canada. http://astro-canada.ca/l_observatoire_federal-the_dominion_observatory-eng

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