Happy 70th Birthday (Just Around the Corner), Clarence Chant!

The Official Opening of the David Dunlap Observatory,

As Witnessed by Helen Hogg and Frank Hogg

First posted Friday, May 28, 2021 / Yom shishi, 17 Sivan, 5781

By David Orenstein, Danforth CTI, Retired

I celebrated my 70th birthday earlier this year and received many fine presents from friends and family, but they couldn’t compare to the present University of Toronto astronomer Clarence Augustus Chant received on his 70th , on May 31, 1935: a major research observatory.

On that day, the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) in Richmond Hill, Ontario, north of Toronto, was officially opened and this event was witnessed by your favourite astronomical couple: Helen Sawyer Hogg and Frank Scott Hogg. (See previous CSTHA Blog Posts for February 12, 2021, and for April 27, 2021.)

Their reports on the DDO opening were preserved in the historical record, including their personal correspondence which is available in the University of Toronto Archives.

On May Day 1935, Frank had written to their three-year old daughter Sally who was staying with relatives in Dunstable, Massachusetts, until Helen and Frank got themselves established.

“Every day Mumie and I get on a street car like this [included is a hand-drawn illustration of a TTC streetcar], and go for a long ride into the country.

“Then we get out and walk to the observatory, where we work. It is a new building and we are still making it.”

Here he adds a sketch of the dome for the 74” telescope, the main entrance and flanking windows seeming to form a smiley face.

That same day Helen wrote:

“Dear Mother,

“Frank… got news of a little four roomed cottage [in Richmond Hill] just a couple of hundred feet… from the observatory which is for rent… for eight to ten dollars a month… and we will try to move out to this little house… by June 1 or earlier.

“[I]n this business… we both have to be here on May 31. Frank cannot leave before; I can. But the best way… is if we take a trip to Mass as soon as we can get away…, stay a week or two, and then get back here, bringing Sally with us and living in the little cottage we have in mind in Richmond Hill…. Meanwhile I will… [be] send[ing] Sally little letters which you can let her open by herself.

Much love,

Helen         $10 enclosed”

Just two days after the Opening, on June 2, Helen wrote again:

“Dear Family,

“When last night came both Frank and I were more dead than alive… and today so far we have spent the whole day sleeping….

“We had a wonderful day with Dr. Shapley and got on like triplets. We took him around the university in the morning, then to Peter’s for lunch, then out to the observatory. The Saturday traffic was terrific and very hard driving for Frankie….

“Both Frank and I have become famous overnight…. Three out of four [of the visiting astronomers], who spoke at the opening Friday afternoon, mentioned us…. Our part in the proceedings was negligible, though Frank had the honor of displaying the telescope and running it…. I superintended a registry book in Chant’s office….[T]he astronomical speeches brought us in, including me, and I became a celebrity overnight.

“Sir Frank Dyson was the bird. He said that the observatory should be congratulated on its staff. That he went to Victoria three years ago, and Dr. Plaskett took him to the dome. There he found Dr. Hogg wor[k]ing with the telescope, and he was not surprised, because he knew he was on the staff. But he found also Mrs. Hogg, and he was not suspecting that, but he was not really surprised, because he remembered she was a Harvard graduate. But the WAS surprised when he found a six weeks’ old baby lying in a basket beside the telescope! He said such enthusiasm was badly needed in this world, etc. He got a big laugh, and dozens of people that I met afterwards said to me , ‘Oh, are you the lady with the baby?’ Then Dr. Shapley came, and he gave Frank and me a big hand, followed by Dr. Harper who referred to‘Dr. Hogg and his talented wife’.

“I was VERY glad I did not get a new coat or dress. In a mob like that only the outstanding people like Mrs. Dunlap are conspicuous in their dress; and I was very well dressed…. In the evening we went to the commencement where the honorary degrees were awarded, six of them. Peggy and I sat together, and Frank and Peter were Esquire Bedells in the academic procession. They walked right behind the President holding maces and stayed on either side of him during the whole procession, and looked very good. Very grand. I wore my evening dress and that regal evening wrap of pink velvent [sic] and white rabbit that Cousin Della gave me years ago and looked very spiffy. I was exceedingly lucky to get that out of storage the day be[f]ore….

“I cannot keep awake any longer. Have a detective story to read, but in spite of the pleasure that it will give me, have been too sleepy to-day to read it. However I feel confident that this one day of rest will put us right back on our feet.

“Much love,


Helen Hogg and Frank Hogg also wrote the official account of the opening, as published in the September 1935 issue of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC), but that’s another story.