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Description found in Archives

Dominion Astronomical Observatory [textual record, cartographic material]. 

Series consists of



Place of creation

No place, unknown, or undetermined

3.1 m of textual records
1 profile

Scope and content

Series consists of records created and/or maintained by the Dominion Astronomical Observatory. The series includes records related to boundary surveys of Canada and central registry files.

Textual records
90: Open
Cartographic material
90NA: Open but not available
Archival reference no.
Former archival reference no.

Terms of use

Copyright belongs to the Crown.

Biography / Administrative history

As magnetism and positional astronomy were the basis of nineteenth-century surveying, when a survey of the international boundary between Canada and the United States was announced in 1872, Lieutenant Samuel Anderson was appointed Chief Astronomer, with Lieutenant Albany Featherstonhaugh, first-ranking assistant and WF King, sub-assistant astronomer.

In 1873, the Department of the Interior was created to take over administration of federal public lands. Five branches were established - Indian Affairs, Geological Survey, Ordnance and Admiralty Lands, Affairs of the North-West Territories, and Dominion Lands. The chief astronomer reported to the Minister through the Dominion Lands Branch, which was responsible for the survey, sale and lease of agricultural, mining and forest lands.

In 1874, a special survey of Canada was instituted by Order in Council (PC 172, February 28, 1874). The 1874 survey was designed to establish a practical basis for the extension of township surveys through the North-West Territories and extending to the Peace River and thus contribute to the systematic settlement of the West. Astronomical observations were made in conjunction with this work by AL Russell and Dr King. By 1881, a total of twenty-one standard survey astronomical stations had been established.

With the entry of British Columbia into Confederation and the subsequent creation of the Railway Belt in that province, detailed azimuth surveys were required of the region. During 1885 and 1886, OJ Klotz and Thomas Drummond were employed as astronomers with the Dominion Lands Branch to accomplish this task.

In 1890, an observatory was erected in Ottawa, with a Physical Testing Laboratory for verifying the measurement of length completed the next year. With the completion of the observatory, the position of Chief Astronomer was created within the Topographical Surveys Branch and Dr King appointed to this position. The work of this office included the supervision of the Railway Belt survey, a photo-topographical survey of the Rocky Mountains and the accurate determination of the longitude of various Canadian points relative to Greenwich, England. Dr King was appointed to represent Canada on the Boundary Commissions relating to the Alaska and Passamaquoddy Bay boundaries in 1892, and in 1902 to arrange the work of restoring old and establishing new monuments on the international boundary from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean, in coalition with the United States.

Construction of a new observatory at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa began in 1902 and was completed in 1905. In this same year, a separate Dominion Astronomical Observatory (also known as the Astronomical Branch) was established within the Department of the Interior. Functions of the new division were allotted among four units - Surveys; Meridian Work and Time Service; Geophysics and Astrophysics and Solar Research. After a few years, the Astrophysics and Solar Research Unit was subdivided into Solar Physics; the Fifteen-Inch Equatorial and Photographic Photometry. The Geophysics Unit was also subdivided into Seismology; Terrestrial Magnetism and Gravity. In 1909, responsibility for the Geodetic Survey of Canada was added to the Branch, with Dr King, Chief Astronomer, serving as superintendent.

Between 1913 and 1918, a second observatory was constructed in Victoria, British Columbia - the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. JS Plaskett served as Director of this observatory, which, for a brief time, housed the largest telescope in the world.

With the death of Dr King in 1916, Dr Klotz was appointed Chief Astronomer. At this time, responsibility for the Geodetic Survey of Canada and the boundary surveys were separated from the branch. The scientific work of the Astronomical Branch was re-organized into seven main categories: Astronomy of Position (Meridian Work and Time Service); Solar Physics; the Fifteen-inch Equatorial; Photographic Photometry; Seismology; Terrestrial Magnetism; and Gravity. Separate branches were created for the Geodetic Survey of Canada and the International Boundary Commission. Upon the death of OJ Klotz in late 1923, RM Stewart was promoted to the position of Director, Astronomical Observatory.

With the dissolution of the Department of the Interior and the merger of the departments of Mines, Indian Affairs, Immigration and Colonization in 1936, a new Department of Mines and Resources was created (Edw. VIII, c.33). The Dominion Observatory, Ottawa (RM Stewart, Dominion Astronomer) and the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Victoria (WE Harper, Head Astronomer) reported through the Dominion Observatories to the Surveys and Engineering Branch to the Minister of the new department. RG48 General Inventory

Additional information

Source of title
Title is based on the contents of the series.

No further accruals are expected.

Related materials
Records related to the post-Interior era may be found in the Dominion Observatories series (MIKAN 134715, R214-155-2-E, RG48-B), a part of the Energy, Mines and Resources fonds.