At one time in history Victoria was home to the world's largest telescope. In 1918 the 1.8 meter Plaskett Telescope was housed in the newly erected Dominion Astrophysical Observatory atop Little Saanich Mountain, just a few miles from downtown Victoria. The honour was short lived. A larger one was soon erected atop the summit of Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii.
Today Victoria’s observatory houses two telescopes, the original Plaskett Telescope and the 1.2 meter telescope and McKellar Spectrograph. The latter was assembled in 1961.
Both of these viewing devices are used every clear night of the year, which annually averages about 200 nights. Research is on-going year round.
The 1.8 meter Plaskett Telescope had its beginnings in 1910. John Stanley Plaskett completed most of the design work and in 1914 work began in the making of the optics to be used in the telescope. The lens was ground and polished in Pittsburgh, PA and took four years to complete. Improvements to the telescope's mechanisms and detectors in recent decades have increased its sensitivity by a factor of about 10,000 over its original capacities. This telescope can carry out optical imaging as well as spectroscopy (e.g. analysis of the rainbows of the stars). Today it is used in the tracking of asteroids and comets, learning more about the nature of galaxies and quasars, and studying the nature of stars. The telescope is accessible to Canadian and non-Canadian astronomers.
The Plaskett Telescope is open to the public in the summer months through the Centre of the Universe program, which includes telescope tours and presentations in the planetarium and multimedia theatre. It is open to school groups at various times throughout the year.
The 1.2 meter telescope and McKellar Spectrograph is used for “studies of binary star systems in order to determine basic information about stars such their masses, motions, and chemical compositions." It may be controlled in fully robotic mode. This telescope is not open to the public.
The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory is operated by the National Research Council of Canada Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA). This federal institute also manages Canada's participation in major astronomical observatories in Hawaii and Chile, thereby guaranteeing Canadian astronomers full access to top-notch facilities extending over the entire sky.
The Observatory has been chosen as a national historic site in acknowledgment of its significant role in creating Canada's international scientific status in astronomy.
Just another reason why I like living in Victoria BC…
 Quote and photos courtesy of the National Research Council of Canada