From The Ground Up

One evening, not that long ago, I took a drive out past the airport about ten kilometres towards Seven Persons. As the last of the light faded from the sky, I took a sharp right and headed down a dirt road. It wasn’t long before I could see the distinctive domes of Medicine Hat’s Sunridge Observatory. 

Photo Captured by Medicine Hat Astronomy Club member.

I was there to meet Joe, the club’s Treasurer, and as I pulled up, Joe stood by the gate, ready to show me around like a proud father. Joe has been an on-off member of the club since 1995. The clubs had its good years, and it’s bad, but before we could talk about where the club is now, Joe was anxious to tell me where it all started.

The club was founded on the 21st of August 1983. Two of the founding members, Erich Petke and Arthur Kraus, donated considerable money and resources to get it all started. The original building was part of the Jim Pratt estate but is owned by the club now.’

I listened to Joe as he went through the history of the building. The challenges and successes. There seems to be a lot of Medicine Hat’s heritage concentrated in this little spot just outside of Seven Persons. 

Comets, Constellations and Quasars.

I had spotted a group of impressive telescopes in the corner, and I was eager to find out a bit about them. Joe showed me where you would look to ‘sight’ the telescope before focusing it more precisely on the planet or constellation you are looking at. Kind patrons donated most of the telescopes. Some can be borrowed and taken home by members. It was the red one in particular that caught my eye. It turned out that it was built by one of the founding members and was a ‘Ten-inch Dobsonian.‘ I don’t know what that means, but it’s an impressive creation none the less. 

Andromeda and the Moon take by members of the Medicine Hat Astronomy Club
Andromeda and the Moon take by members of the Medicine Hat Astronomy Club

Finding objects in the sky with a telescope is only half the game. Photographing them is the next technical challenge, and the club has had many successes there. Joe lead me around the room, pointing out the members’ handy work and explaining the art of the long exposure. 

‘When I first looked through a telescope, I was a little disappointed because the images you see are always better than what you can see in the telescope.’ He pointed out a few comets framed on the wall. ‘Not to brag, but these are some I managed to take with a bit of a vintage camera, a Zeiss Icon Contaflex using time laps.’

Looking To The Future.

It was no coincidence that I was spending time with Joe that day. He reached out to us because the club isn’t doing so great. Between members moving on, a lack of web or social media presence and the effects of COVID. The future of the club isn’t looking good.

It’s not all bad news. Being a member here is affordable and has some great benefits. For just $50 a year, you get all the training, access, equipment and fellowship you could ask for. You get to join a community desperate to share their excitement for the universe around us. The club needs money; that’s no lie, but more than anything else, they need your passion.

What happens next.

Standing in the observatory’s dome next to the club’s largest, most impressive telescope. I watched the stars drift in and out of view as the opening slowly rotated into position. Everywhere you look here, you can see the joy of bringing these things together. It deserves to be protected. It is ready for new explorers.

Under The Dome. Sunridge Observatory’s largest Telescope.

If you are interested in being part of the Medicine Hat Astronomy Clubs next chapter, please send an email to medicinehatstargazers@gmail.com. Please don’t use the website or Facebook; neither are working at this time. Joe is waiting for your email to welcome you in as he welcomed me in.

medicinehatstargazers@gmail.com