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History of the Planetarium

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The Montréal Planetarium under construction, 1960s.
Photo: Archives de la Ville de Montréal

History of the Dow Planetarium (1966-2011)

A planetarium for Expo 67!

The Montréal Planetarium – formerly known as the Dow Planetarium – was inaugurated on April 1, 1966 by Mr. Jean Drapeau, who was Montréal’s mayor at the time. This event marked the culmination of more than three years of planning and hard work by Dr. Pierre Gendron, who was past professor of chemistry and founding Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa, and an avid amateur astronomer. At the time, Dr. Gendron was also president of the board of directors of Dow Breweries, which later became O’Keefe Breweries (since then absorbed by Molson Breweries). It was through his impetus that Dow Breweries decided to endow Montréal with a world class planetarium, add to the city’s touristic appeal, and to the Montréal Universal and International Exposition of 1967, Expo 67.

Plans for the Planetarium were developed by the architectural firm of David-Barott-Boulva. The innovative design echoed an astronomical theme, evidenced by the exterior of the dome, which resembled Saturn surrounded by its rings. The Planetarium was built at a cost of $1.2 million and located on Chaboillez Square, which once served as a parking area. The building and projection equipment were completed in February 1966, and the inaugural show, New Skies for a New City, premiered on April 4, 1966.

A resounding success

  • Between 1966 and 2011, some six million spectators attended over 250 original productions created by the Planetarium to bring the fascinating universe of astronomy and space exploration to the masses.
  • Some 50 lecturers and educators shared presenting duties for more than 58,000 shows in the Star Theatre.

The Montréal Planetarium ceased its public activities on October 10, 2011.

2013, a new direction: the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

A renewal of the Planetarium became necessary to modernize its facilities and equipment in order to incorporate the latest technological innovations. Another imperative was added: to move the Planetarium closer to the institutions of the Space for Life in order to consolidate this museum complex. Furthermore, the Space for Life commitment to sustainable development demanded a building constructed in accordance with these principles.

When it opened in April 1966, the Dow Planetarium offered the people of Montréal and Québec a revolutionary approach to astronomy. In April 2013, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, built close to the Biodôme, picks up the baton and innovates again, breaking new ground in terms of its architecture, technology and visitor experience. In keeping with the movement initiated by the Space for Life, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium boldly forges ahead with a view to bringing humans closer to nature.

The monument to Copernicus

Previously located in front of the Montréal Planetarium, this statue have pride of place in front of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. 

The statue is a replica of a monument to Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus. The original, created in 1822 by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), was erected in central Warsaw in 1830. A plaque affixed to the concrete base reads as follows:

Nicholas Copernicus
1473-1543
Founder of modern astronomy
Presented by the Polish-Canadian community on the occasion of the Canadian Confederation Centennial and the Millennium of Christian Poland

The sundial

Also initially located in front of the Montréal Planetarium, the sundial will be moved to a spot in front of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. It is expected to be installed in spring 2013.
The equatorial sundial is the work of Dutch artist Herman J. van der Heide (1919-1998). On the base of the sundial, a plaque carries the following inscription:

Aux citoyens de Montréal fraternellement,
Les citoyens de Rotterdam
325e anniversaire de la fondation de Montréal
17 mai 1642-1967

“To the Citizens of Montreal fraternally, / The Citizens of Rotterdam / 325th Anniversary of the Foundation of Montreal / May 17 1642-1967”

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