Residents rally to save observatory

Looking out: The David Dunlop Observatory is home to Canada’s largest optical telescope. Photo by Ayoub AnsariAt the end of a one-lane pathway in the countryside of Richmond Hill, a massive white dome-like structure is situated housing the largest optical telescope in Canada.

This is the David Dunlop Observatory (DDO), what one person calls GTA’s hidden treasure. The DDO played a vital role in the shocking discovery of the existence of black holes by a Toronto astronomer, Tom Bolton.

Despite its 72 years of Canadian significance, a financially strapped University of Toronto is accepting purchase offers. The observatory surrounded by 189 acres of land can fetch the university as much as $100 million.

Some Richmond Hill citizens hoping to save the DDO, claim the University announced its plans without consulting with the residents of Richmond Hill.

An organizer of the Saturday public tours of the DDO, Karmo Toomas, speaking on a private capacity said, “We are being railroaded by the University.”

According to Toomas, the campaign to save the DDO started as soon as the press release was issued by the University on Sep. 10, 2007.

“The press release had a rather violent effect on the opinion in Richmond Hill,” he said.

On Oct. 30, after one governing council meeting, the community got together at a home adjacent to the DDO and made a decision. “We decided that, we had to have a rally immediately,” said Toomas

The first protest took place in November and since then many have taken place, including one on Queen’s Park.

The controversy has created such a stir in the community that even the director of (a website that is dedicated to save the DDO as a historic landmark and an operating observatory) was caught by surprise.

“As the campaign has been getting into gear it has actually surprised me just how many people not only know about the DDO, but are so passionate about it they are willing to go to great lengths to save it,” Matthew Calaminici said.

As for getting someone involved and passionate about the DDO it can be done within minutes.

“When you sit down with a person it only takes a five-minute crash course on the history of the DDO and surround land, that the person starts either nodding their head in agreement or shaking their head and saying ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’,” Calaminici said.

Toomas’s biggest fear is the DDO becoming an Astronomical Disney World. He wants to make sure 60-70 per cent of the land gets sold and the building becomes a museum.

Calaminici says unless there is a philanthropist willing to donate $100 million, one person or one organization cannot save the DDO.

“It is an effort that will take every little bit of effort that anyone interested can spare. The best thing that could happen is that the facility and surrounding land is declared a cultural heritage.” Calaminici said.

The DDO is located on Hillsview Drive, just north of Highway 7.