H.R. MacMillan Space Centre

I’m definitely letting my geek show through here, but this H.R. MacMillan Space Centre looks really cool. And it’s free! And non-profit! It’s all about bringing the wonders of space to regular Earth folk like you and me. And an added bonus is that it’s a really good rainy-day alternative. Lots of things I want to see and do in Vancouver are going to be outside, so it’s good to have some indoor options! The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre boasts rocket engines (which would be quite the haul for any towing company), a replica of the space station, a planetarium, and astronomy shows. The Gordon MacMillan Southam observatory, located right nest to the Space Centre, has a half-metre Cassegrain telescope through which you can get up close and personal with the skies around Vancouver.

When what is now known as the Space Centre first opened in 1968, it consisted only of the Planetarium Theatre, hence its being called the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium. I was not until 1997 that an exhibit gallery and a new theatre were added, making the Space Centre into the public learning centre it is today. The Centre’s founder, Harvey Reginald MacMillan, interestingly was not in the business of space research, nor was he even originally from British Columbia. H.R. MacMillan was actually born in Newmarket, Ontario, and it was there that he decided to enter the lumber industry. After being educated at the Ontario Agricultural College and Yale University, MacMillan began the first privately-owned lumber export company in British Columbia. As well as being a very successful businessman, he was also, happily for space-enthusiasts, a philanthropist. Space exploration was kind of a big deal in the 1960s, and MacMillan wanted to give the people of Vancouver the opportunity to learn about the wonders of the universe.

The building was designed by Gerald Hamilton, and was built to look like the hats worn by the Haida people, who hail from northern British Columbia. The building has since become somewhat of a landmark in Vancouver, thanks to its very distinctive structure. Adding to the whimsy of the building is a stainless steel crab that stands over six metres high, and was a gift to the museum from the women of the Vancouver Centennial Committee in 1967, to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. This crab structure also ties into the overall design of the building, because, according to the culture of the Haida, the crab guards entrances to harbours.

One of the coolest things the centre offers, as far as I’m concerned, is the not-quite-overnight and completely overnight adventures! The not-quite-overnight adventures include a private show in the GroundStation Canada theatre, an intro to the night sky, and a look through the centre’s telescope, while the overnight stay offers the opportunity to make your own bottle rockets, a Planetarium presentation, a chance to look through the telescope, and lots more fun stuff! Also, you get breakfast in the morning. Unfortunately, it looks like these things are designed for children, but … I mean, if I got a bunch of friends together and signed up …. might be cheaper than an airbnb, actually. Surely they wouldn’t turn us away? … worth a shot. Space is cool.