Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)

Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)

Homemade backyard stargazing dome makes a move to Saanich

Personal astronomy centre finds a new home after 30 years

People who live, work or play around Dunsmuir Middle School in Colwood might be familiar with a large white dome perched in a backyard.

The stargazing structure was built by Bill Almond in 1992, a passionate astronomer and member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

He used it for deep space photography through a Meade telescope, where he captured stunning images of the dark sky. The fibreglass dome has a crank system to lift a slot in the roof, the shutter, and the whole top rotates 360 degrees to give the viewer any slice of the sky they choose.

“Come and see the stars,” he would say to neighbours.

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Last week the dome moved to a new home in Saanich, into the care of another astronomer, Cameron Burton.

A student at Dunsmuir (then a junior high) when Almond was building the dome, Burton remembers watching the construction out of his Grade 10 science class window.

Almond had built a custom tower to house the dome on his sundeck – apparently Colwood staff told Almond him to call it a watchtower on the building permits, because no one knew how to approve an observatory, according to Burton.

Moving the 10 foot round fibreglass dome was no small feat. The crane operator managed to lift the entire dome as a single unit, with inches to spare between powerlines, Burton said.

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The neighbourhood and Almond’s family gathered to watch it go earlier this month, sharing memories of visiting the dome.

Its new home is on a grassy slope near a lake with a view of the National Research Council’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory dome on Observatory Hill in Saanich.

“Just like Bill, we want to make it as much of an open house as we can,” Burton said.

It needs a bit of work before it’s ready for a telescope, but Burton hopes to have it operating by the summer.

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Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)

Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)

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