|Figure 1: Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium - from the South. Credit: H. Gibbins|
In 1958 a proposal was put before Edmonton City Council to build a permanent civic memorial to mark the visit of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in July of 1959. Originally there were three projects proposed a 30.8 metre (94 foot) trilon which would symbolize the three levels of government. A fountain, and the park itself.
Alderman Mitchell proposed that an observatory be added onto the list. This proposal must have been liked by the majority of council as neither the fountain, or park options were ever mentioned in subsequent documents. A third option was conceived of by S. Frank Page (Assistant Secretary and editor of "Stardust" the newsletter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Edmonton Centre) in approximately November 1958 when he suggested that a Planetarium be constructed due to the expected interference of city lights.
A committee subsequentially was struck consisting of Professor E. S. Keeping, Professor Gads, Mr. Franklin Loehde, Mr. F. Jersen, Mr. D. Rosenfield, and Dr. Earl Milton to draft a proposal for submission to Edmonton City Council. On December 21, 1959 Mr. H. J. McKim Ross of the Montgomery Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion made a motion that was passed unanimously supporting the project in principle. In March 1959 the Planetarium proposal passed the hurdle of the City's Finance Committee with an estimated cost of $110,000.
On Monday March 9, 1959 the proposal to construct a planetarium in Coronation Park was approved by City Council by a margin of seven to four.
During the Queen's visit in July of 1959 Mayor William Hawrelak made the following dedication speech in Coronation Park:
"Your most gracious Majesty, we most humbly pray that you may be pleased to be assured of the sincere and enduring loyalty of the people of the City of Edmonton. Your devoted subjects desire respectfully to extend to your Majesty and to His Royal Highness Prince Philip, a most cordial and enthusiastic welcome to Coronation Park.
"You have now set foot on an area of Canadian soil that was named in honour of your coronation as Queen and Sovereign of the British Empire.
"We trust that the character of the welcome the Citizens of Edmonton extend to you here will be in keeping with the spirit of your visit.
"In commemoration of this Royal Visit in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, it is the wish of your loyal and devoted people to erect a building of masonry, brick, and stone at this location. A structure that will serve during the years ahead as a practical and pleasurable monument to perpetuate the memory of this great occasion. The aesthetic value of this Planetarium will soon give the development of the Canadian parkland, an additional beauty dedicated to the welfare and convenience of our citizens. May it always be in keeping with the spirit in which you come to us, friendly, warm hearted and sincere.
"We respectfully request of your Majestys' permission to name this building The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium. In your presence today we humbly demonstrate our allegiance, our gratitude and our affection."
The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium was designed to be the main focal point of Coronation Park. The building itself was designed by the architect R.F. Duke, and constructed by R.V. Coambs Construction Limited. At the time of its construction, and for a few years afterward the Planetarium was the only structure in Coronation Park. Coronation Pool was started in 1967 as a Centennial project and was opened in 1970. The Coronation Arena was opened in 1970, and the Commonwealth Lawn Bowling Club was constructed between 1975 & 1978. The last bit of construction within the area of Coronation Park was the Edmonton Space Sciences Centre which was finished in 1983, which has gone through a number of renovations and additions since 1983.
The first Director of the Planetarium was Mr. Ian McLennan, a member of the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He served in this position from August 22, 1960 to October 31, 1965 when he moved on to become the director of Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York.
The official opening ceremonies were held on Thursday September 22, 1960. Mayor Roper dedicated the building, and a message of congratulations from the Queen's Secretary was read by Chief Justice C. J. Forward of the Alberta Supreme Court. Professor E. S. Keeping represented the University of Alberta and presented a sixty-eight pound fragment of the Bruderheim meteorite to the planetarium. The fragment was made the centre piece of the buildings astronomical display. Also present was James Harrngton of Leduc then president of the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
With the opening of the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium on September 22, 1960 it became the first such public facility in Canada. The second public planetarium on Canadian soil was opened February 11, 1966 in Montreal.
During Mr. McLennan's directorship much of the work at the planetarium was done by volunteers of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Eventually though a full time lecturer and receptionist had to he hired.
Mr. McLennan was succeeded in his position by David Rodgers who took over on November 1, 1965 and who's short term of office lasted until July 31, 1966 when he was appointed as Director of the H. R. MacMillian Planetarium in Vancouver, British Columbia. During Mr. Rodgers' directorship the planetarium produced its most successful shows. The popularity of this attraction can be seen in the fact that the 25,000th person saw a show on July 4, 1966. In 1967 an attendance record of 33,500 was reached. Shortly thereafter a staff position of technician was added. The person hired for this position was William Cable.
The next director was in fact Mr. William Cable who took over on August 2, 1967 and was in the position until 1973. During Mr. Cable's directorship the involvement of the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada was reduced considerably. In addition attendance dropped from the 33,000 in 1967 to 12,500 in 1972. Mr. Cable left the planetarium in 1972.
Mr. John Hault took over as director on January 5, 1973 until the planetarium closed on December 31, 1983. He then moved on to become the director of the Edmonton Space Sciences Centre.
In late 2004 two separate application were submitted to the Historical Resouces Development Board by Dale Nosko and Howard Gibbins. With the assistance of Mr. Robert Geldart these proposals were put forward to the board and passed by the Historical Resources Review Panel on May 31, 2005. According to Mr. Geldart "They agreed that the Planetarium is worthy of being on the A list!" The next step was for the applications to go before the Edmonton Historical Board which happened in late June. They also agreed that the building should be added to the "A" list. The next, and last step was for the General Manager of the Planning and Development Department to pass the application which happened in late August. He subsequentially sent a letter to Community Services saying that The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium has been added to the "A" list of historic resources within the City of Edmonton.