The Origins of the David Dunlap Observatory

As we continue to celebrate the Society’s 50th Anniversary, we are sharing articles from past issues of our membership magazine. In honour of the official opening of the David Dunlap Observatory, we look back to the November/December 2002 issue of Heritage on the Hill and this article by Elinor Humphreys Graham.

The existence of an observatory in our midst is positively dependent on three persons, namely Mrs. Jessie Donalda Dunlap, Dr. Clarence August Chant, and Dr. Reynold Kenneth Young. It stands today as a vital and living monument to them.

The City of Toronto and the University of Toronto needed a research centre for the oldest and most majestic of the sciences astronomy. Mrs. Jessie Dunlap was a very wealthy widow, living in Rosedale in 1926, when she received a copy of an article from The Star Weekly, written by Dr. C. A. Chant, professor at the University of Toronto and founder of its Department of Astronomy. Both Mr. and Mrs. Dunlap had long shared a deep interest in the science of Astronomy and when Dr. Chant asked if she might be interested in supporting his project – a research centre – she responded positively and enthusiastically. Needless to say, Dr. Chant was overjoyed.

Due to Mrs. Dunlap’s magnificent gift to the University of Toronto, she and Dr. Chant found the ideal site on a hill on the east side of Yonge Street, 15 miles north of the old city limits, now part of Richmond Hill. In due course the David Dunlap Observatory became a reality and was officially opened on May 31, 1935, by Mrs. Dunlap, and named in memory of her late husband, David. It was the culmination of nine years of hard work, and the lifelong dream of Dr. Chant, who had been on the staff of the University of Toronto since 1904, founded and became the first head of its Department of Astronomy and then founded the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

May 31st was chosen as opening day especially since it was the 70th birthday of Dr. Chant, and he was formally retiring, so became Director of the Observatory for one day only. Officially, Dr. R. K. Young, professor of astrophysics at the University of Toronto, followed Dr. Chant as Director on June 1st, 1935; in reality its first director. Dr. Young was born on a Binbrook, Ontario farm, on October 4th 1886, one of thirteen children born to Robert Young and Jean Bell. Reynold Young was very studious, excelled academically and graduated with honours and was a gold medalist from the University of Toronto.

With Dr. Chant he had led a Canadian party on an eclipse expedition to Australia, and afterwards joined Dr. Chant as Professor of Astronomy at the University of Toronto in 1924. Dr. Young obtained his PhD at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in southern California and held positions at Kansas Observatory and at the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, thence to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, B.C. with its 72 inch telescope, the second largest in the world at that time, 1918.

Dr. Young’s contributions to the U. of T. are embodied and made manifest in the present David Dunlap Observatory. He had the necessary experience at major observatories for design, specifications, construction, instrumentation, installation, and testing of the 74 inch reflecting telescope and its dome, the
finest in the British Empire and second largest in the world at the time. The observatory administration building with its laboratory and shop equipment were his responsibility also. In his spare time between 1926 and 1928 he built a nineteen inch reflecting telescope which is still in use at the observatory. Dr. Young as director kept the large 74 inch reflector fully active during World War II in spite of a shortage of staff. He published 96 scientific papers, determined the radical velocities of 2,152 stars and the absolute magnitudes of over 1,100 stars. He worked on the sub-commission of the International Astronomical Union. He was a Fellow and life member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, serving as National President for two years, 1932 and 1933. He was a life member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the American Astronomical Society, an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1923, and in 1973 was made an Honourary Life Member, the first to receive this rare honour.

Dr. Young retired January 1st 1946 with the title of Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto, and Director Emeritus of the David Dunlap Observatory. He had married for the second time in September 1936, to Mrs. Amy Gertrude Phillips Graham, a resident of Richmond Hill, and widow of the late William Howard Graham and mother of four children, Philip, Marjorie, Wallace, and George.

Dr. and Mrs. Young continued to live in Richmond Hill, until 1964 when they moved to Cobourg where Mrs. Young passed over in 19 73, and Dr. Young in 1977. They are both resting in Richmond Hill Presbyterian Cemetery.

Due to his loyal dedication, disciplined devotion to duty, and unrivalled capabilities, Dr. Young was indispensable to Dr. Chant and the Department of Astronomy. The role that the University of Toronto was and is able to play in modem astronomy was determined by the way Dr. Reynold K. Young built and launched the David Dunlap Observatory 67 years ago in 1935.

Richmond Hill 150th Walk and Learn

Richmond Hill’s Rose Industry
Sunday May 28 at 1 pm

An aerial view of the greenhouses in Richmond Hill
An aerial view of the greenhouses in Richmond Hill (Photo courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)

The rose industry was Richmond Hill’s major employer during the early half of the last century. In fact, the greenhouses played a key role in Richmond Hill’s ability to survive the Great Depression. Come walk through an area of the City’s early economic and demographic growth as you discover why Richmond Hill was once called the “Rose Capital of Canada.” A registered adult must accompany all registered participants under the age of 16.

Meet at the Heritage Centre/Amos Wright Park — 19 Church Street North (see map)


24 May 1939 Victoria Day on Yonge Street

As we continue to celebrate the Society’s 50th Anniversary, we are sharing articles from past issues of our membership magazine. In honour of Victoria Day, we look back to the May/June 1996 issue of Heritage on the Hill and this article by Harry Suter.

Dark clouds of war hung low over Europe that bright Spring of 1939. Young people felt threatened because they would be needed to staff the Armed Services. Stories from World War I (the Great War, it was still called) began to spike our conversation with its tales of carnage. High school students compared the life styles and uniforms of the Navy, Army and Air Force. The life expectancy in each branch was debated with some interest.

Richmond Hill’s telephone poles were plastered with the 24th of May Fair flyers. Games! Horses! Street Dance! Come to the Fair! Towns all over Southern Ontario held such Fairs. Richmond Hill was famous for it’s Street Dance, an annual rural institution. I had never attended the dance, only the hoopla in the fair grounds.

A short walk down Lorne (Avenue) brought you to the Arena where the gate was festooned with flashing lights. The chatter of the crowd and the carioca music carried out to Church Street where the echoing chants from the midway announcers, booming out of the loud speakers were overwhelming. You jangled the money in your pocket to decide just which booth you would try first.

There was the ubiquitous coconut throw where you got three baseballs for ten cents to throw at stacked wooden pins about twenty feet distant on a wooden table. It seemed a ridiculously large target for teenage soft ball players. In the end it usually cost at least fifty cents to win a ropy fifteen cent coconut.

There were ring throwing games where you must encircle a wooden block under a glamorous prize to win. The hoop was almost identical in size with the diagonal over the corners of the block making the game deceptively difficult.

There was a honey tongued barker coaxing each girl to buy a ticket to allow him to guess her weight within five pounds. If he failed she won a kewpie doll.

Brawny young fellows hammered at a lever which shot a heavy ball up a twenty foot track topped with a ball. He showed off bulging biceps to his girl while smacking the device mightily. When the bell rang, it was accompanied by an ecstatic shout of victory over the loud speaker from the attendant and the dramatic presentation of a giant panda toy to the competitor’s girl.

A redolent buttered popcorn aroma floated temptingly over the crowd and many a mother’s supper was thwarted by the frothy stickiness of pink cotton candy.

When your cash was getting low or you had won a giant teddy bear for your princess, you would sit on the grass and watch the horses. The late afternoon hours could be spent quietly watching earnest young aristocrats urge giant horses over loose railed hurdles.

The sharp ammonia aroma of the horses and the flying clods from their hooves were a relaxing end to an exciting day at the fair. After supper the serious gamblers took a whirl at the roulette wheels. The currency at the wheel was cigarettes but one could sell the prizes back to the croupier for the retail price, twenty five cents a package of twenty five.

After dark, near eight o’clock, the glamour of gambling wore thin except for some fanatic gamblers. The remainder of the young adults began to drift up towards the band stand on Yonge Street for the street dance.

This was the first year that dancing had caught my fancy. Up until now, girls had been shadows in the water. They could be seen, but were difficult to get your hands on.

One could expect country western music, square dances and the like at a pre-war street dance. They were obviously lively and fun, but never the less old fashioned, the diversion of the previous generation. My age class had their own thing.

Things got off to a roaring start at eight o’clock with a Virginia Reel and a high stepping Dip for the Oyster, Dive for the Clam square dance. The radial track scarred pavement of Yonge Street was powdered and yet shiny under the harsh glare of street lights.

The orchestra was ensconced on a 20 foot square wooden platform thrown up in the middle of the street at Yonge’s north end near Crosby. The fiddle bows screeched. The dos-i-dos and allemande lefts were exciting and lively, setting a fast pace for the country dancers.

As time crept on the young adult crowd called for some jive. Many of us had never heard the term.

A group of teenagers from Lawrence Park Collegiate in the north end of Toronto called for the orchestra to play Jazz. The band responded with gusto.

In the last hour before midnight they showed us the new craze which was sweeping the country. It had started in New York’s Harlem about 1935.

I saw Roy Holmes and his girl Ruth Kerswell watching but they were too dignified to be caught up in this type of melee. University students were of a different genre. Dave McGibbon was a bemused spectator. The farmers who lingered were as intrigued as I.

The pace speeded. Drums rumbled with vigour as In the Mood and Frenesee were pounded out. Clarinets and saxophones wailed.

Lanky teenage youths and gum chewing girls swarmed on to the street to swing at arm’s length and sway to the fast rhythm of this intoxicating new music. Heads were high and backs straight as these Bobby Soxers hopped to the new beat, swaying and weaving with the gait so smooth a glass of water would al¬most balance on their heads.

Much of the time these pagan prancers were not even in contact. They gyrated at about three feet from one another, meeting to pirouette, even turning away from partners to clap hands, wave, step out and return. Round young fannies gyrated like bobbing bumble bees.

The girls wore pony tail hair styles with fancy barrettes, and were mostly clad in calf length plaid skirts, tight at the hips and flaring just above the knees. They wore flat sole shoes and ankle length socks with tartan design at the top. They chewed gum almost in time with the music and bore a faraway look as they danced appearing almost hypnotized. The girls seemed to be focused on the music while the boys relaxed in loose gaited abandonment.

It was an intricate dance with many sequences. A girl I knew from Earl Haig Collegiate beckoned me to her with a grin over the side line ropes. I stumbled through a few bars before retiring in confusion when I found how complex the steps were. When I returned to the next street dance a full year later, I had still not mastered the jitterbug steps.

When I was on leave in London, I took some dance lessons which stood me in good stead in Belgium and Holland where the girls all seemed able to float like a cloud to a simple accordion solo.

I do not remember any 24th of May jamborees when I returned from service.

The dancers in Richmond Hill this night bobbed and weaved in syncopated lock step until 11:55 P.M. The band played Good Night Ladies and The King sharp at midnight.

The trolley was allowed to rumble past the barrier at the station up to the north terminal at Elgin when the crowd pitched in to dismantle the band stand. There were mighty few automobiles at that time of night.

Most of the dancers found their way into Fetch’s Trolley Station Grill at Lorne (Avenue). I replenished my bottomless cave with a toasted western sandwich and hot cocoa.

When the last trolley rolled south, a happy crew of teenagers greeted it in good natured banter with Corsets, the conductor who stood stiff as a ram rod while piloting the radial rocket. He was usually good natured and put up with the hijinks of the school crowd with a grin and a shrug as we filed aboard.

The radial swerved sharply from the centre of Yonge when it reached Major Mac (Markham Road). Then it hurtled in heart throbbing haste down the hill, travelling on the east side of No. 11. The first stop was May Ave.

When I alighted at stop 20, there were still as many riders going further south, as far as Toronto. They were happily dos-i-doing in the drivers cubicle at the rear end of the radial car while the conductor just shook his head and grinned.

Richmond Hill 150 Years Ago: Streets and Sidewalks

The effort Richmond Hill’s early councils put into streets and sidewalks set the stage for the growth and development seen in the city today, writes Jim Vollmershausen

By Jim Vollmershausen
Published by the Richmond Hill Liberal, Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Richmond Street looking east, circa. 1909, showing the road and sidewalk. The United Church (formerly Methodist Church) can be seen in the background. – Courtesy of RHPL

The new Richmond Hill council met for the first time on Jan. 20, 1873 after a municipal election earlier that month. It’s easy to imagine that expectations were high — they had waited a long time to reach official village status, and there was work to be done. One of the reasons people were anxious to manage their own affairs, after all, was the complaint they were being ignored by the two townships (Vaughan Township west of Yonge Street and Markham Township east of Yonge Street) that had shared responsibility for their community. The condition of Yonge Street, their main thoroughfare, had to be top of mind, and how their village would grow without good streets and sidewalks.

The sidewalk along west side of Yonge Street in front of the old High School at the corner of Yonge and Wright Streets, circa. 1910s. – Courtesy of RHPL

Of necessity, much of the new council’s early efforts were devoted to civic appointments and the passage of bylaws governing a variety of activities in the village, ranging from determining conditions for tavern and business licences to bylaws setting terms for snow, ice and dirt removal and dog taxes. In addition, a considerable portion of their time was taken up by the need to deal with education. A new high school was urgently needed and much of the first council’s time and funds went to meet that requirement. As a result, other areas just didn’t get much attention, including streets and sidewalks. Records show, for example, that in all of 1873, only $201.69 was devoted to street improvements.

From that meagre start, improvements to Richmond Hill’s street network gradually took a bit more precedence in council deliberations and expenditures. Over the next 10 years, council minutes demonstrate that upgrading their streets and sidewalks was becoming more and more important. Funds were provided, for example, to build or repair the village’s board or plank sidewalks. This meant two-metre-wide sidewalks on Yonge Street and one metre wide on side streets. Funding was also provided to build new roads in the village, which led, for example, to the construction of Trench Street as an alternate north-south connection between Richmond and Mill streets on the western side of Yonge Street. One interesting project was a decision to purchase second-hand gas-fired street lamps from the Village of Yorkville for the illumination of Yonge Street. The used lamps cost $4 each.

Yonge Street looking south from the corner of Arnold Crescent, ca 1910s. – Courtesy of RHPL

Even with these improvements, municipal funds for streets and sidewalks did not loom large in the overall scheme of things. Richmond Hill, after all, was still a small village — in 1877, four years after its incorporation, its population consisted of only 659 people, only 151 of which were ratepayers. The village raised $1,667 in municipal taxes that year and just over $1,000 for education. Roads and bridges only accounted for $287.

Though funds were obviously limited, council did continue to approve projects designed to make it easier to get around a village that was just starting to grow. During the new village’s first 15 or 20 years, when they had much more say in the decisions that affected them, main streets were widened and their condition was improved, new streets were constructed to accommodate growth and provide space for new housing and commercial developments, nighttime lighting was provided, primarily on Yonge Street, and sidewalks were laid or improved along the busiest streets.

Yonge Street, looking south with the road, sidewalk and radial railway tracks, circa. 1912. – Courtesy of RHPL

Then, as now, streets and sidewalks had to share their place in a municipality’s list of priorities with many other issues. In the 1870s and 1880s, that included the development of parklands, the funding of a fire brigade, and financial assistance for “indigent persons” and the “aged and Infirm.” Over the last 150 years, though, the efforts that early councils put into streets and sidewalks set the stage for the kind of development and growth we are experiencing today.

Jim Vollmershausen is president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society. The society can be found online at

Tales from Hogg’s Hollow with Scott Kennedy – May 15, 2023

Cover of Scott Kennedy's book Tales from the Hollow: The Story of Hogg's Hollow and York Mills

We are very excited to welcome back Scott Kennedy who will be sharing stories from his latest book Tales from the Hollow: The Story of Hogg’s Hollow and York Mills.

Join us at 7:30 pm on Monday, May 23, 2023 in Wallace Hall at the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church, 10066 Yonge Street in Richmond Hill. Guests are welcome for only $5, so bring all your friends to hear fascinating stories from this area rich in history!

Spring Fair Returns May 20, 2023 at Town Park!

In the year we celebrate the 150th anniversary in Richmond Hill, the “Spring Fair,” an annual tradition in the Richmond Hill community for 147 years will be back at Town Park on Saturday, May 20, 2023; the same location where the historic annual celebration of spring was held until 1985. The Fair moved to Richmond Green before ending in 1996. Deputy Mayor Godwin Chan invites you to join him from noon to 3 pm on May 20th at Town Park, 43 Church Street South.

Complimentary BBQ food (burgers and hot dogs) and ice cream cones will be served while quantities last. Richmond Hill’s antique 1924 fire truck will be on display. The family-oriented community event includes children’s activities, public and community services booths, and a live band performance. While Spring Fair in the earlier days listed prizes for horses and other livestock, the 2023 event has a door prize of a free weekend use of 2023 Lexus RX350.

Peter Wilson, Local History Librarian at Richmond Hill Public Library, will showcase their historic Spring Fair collections. In addition, the Ukrainian community will participate in the 2023 Spring Fair to perform and share their culture and welcome support to help newcomers who are in need. As well, St. John Ambulance will have their Community Food Truck to collect donations for the Richmond Hill Community Food Bank.

Bring along your family and friends along with non-perishable food items for donation to our local food bank and enjoy the community celebration of Spring 2023.

Register at

See you there!