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Newbrook Observatory

Newbrook, Near

Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Newbrook Observatory is a 0.82 hectare site located on the edge of the Hamlet of Newbrook, approximately 110 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. The site comprises an observatory with a retractable roof and a residence with an attached two-car garage.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Newbrook Observatory lies in its association with Canadian space research. It possesses particular importance within this area for providing the first North American photographs of the Sputnik I satellite.

The roots of the Newbrook Observatory can be traced to 1946, when the United States and Canada agreed to work co-operatively on space science projects, particularly meteorite observations. The northerly situation of Newbrook - with its clear view of the night sky and its relative lack of auroral interference - made it an ideal location for establishing a meteor observation station to assist in this joint effort. Constructed in 1951, the Newbrook observatory opened in 1952 as a field station of the Stellar Physics Division of Canada's Dominion Observatory in Ottawa. It was equipped with a sophisticated Super-Schmidt Meteor Camera - one of only two used in Canada of a total of just six produced by the Connecticut-based Perkin-Elmer Company. Between 1952 and 1957, the observatory obtained thousands of photographs and spectrograph exposures. This data, combined with similar documentation from the nearby and identically equipped Meanook observatory, was studied by scientists in an attempt to determine the properties of the upper atmosphere. By the late 1950s, scientific and technological advances in rocket science had made it possible for scientists to launch objects into the upper atmosphere, expanding research possibilities and rendering meteor observation largely obsolete. In 1970, the Canadian government consolidated astronomical research and the observatories at Meanook and Newbrook were closed.

In October, 1957, the Newbrook Observatory bore witness to one of the seminal moments of the twentieth century. On October 4, 1957, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) astounded the world by announcing the successful launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to be sent into space. Less than a week later, Art Griffen, resident scientist at the Newbrook Observatory, took the first North American photograph of Sputnik, confirming the Russians' claim. The news of the launch sent shockwaves around the world. The announcement was particularly alarming to citizens of the United States, whose comfortable sense of scientific and technological superiority was deeply rattled. The launch of Sputnik marked the start of the space age and initiated a period of intense competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for dominance in the exploration and colonization of space.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1853)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Newbrook Observatory include such features as:

- mass, form, and style;
- medium gable roof with dormer and chimney;
- cast-in-place concrete foundation;
- attached double car garage;
- rafter and cross-tie system of roof;
- layered studs, diagonal sheathing, and horizontal bevelled siding;
- interior of gypsum drywall;
- single hung wood-framed windows;
- plain slab doors and panelled storm doors;
- original flooring;
- small crawlspace in basement, accessible from outside by trapdoor;
- floorplan.

- mass, form, and style;
- T-shaped footprint;
- observatory cupola;
- floorplan, including ante room, observation room, dark room in main portion and camera room in wing;
- low gabled roofs covered with corrugated metal;
- slab concrete floor in main unit;
- rafter cross-tie system roof over main unit;
- retractable roof over camera room and associated system of pulleys, cables, and counterweights;
- painted plywood interior walls and ceilings;
- exterior layered with sheathing and horizontal siding;
- camera mount;
- exterior wood frame structure for retraction of roof.


Street Address:
Community: Newbrook, Near
Boundaries: Block 2, Plan 9222893
Contributing Resources: Building: 2

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
16 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
54.324565 -112.954977 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1995/02/01

Historical Information

Built: 1951 to 1951
Period of Significance: 1957 to 1957
Theme(s): Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Science
Historic Function(s): Defence : Civil Defence Site
Current Function(s):

In 1946, the Canadian government agreed to work in association with the American government to develop cooperative space science projects. One of these projects was construction of a series of meteor observation stations across Canada. The stations were located "as far North as was practical" to ensure good observation conditions and broad coverage across latitude. Newbrook was chosen as an excellent site for one of these observatories, and in 1952 Newbrook Observatory opened as a field station of the Stellar Physics Division of Canada's Dominion Observatory.

The Newbrook Observatory was equipped with a state-of-the-art Super-Schmidt Meteor Camera: one of only two used in Canada and one of just six manufactured by Perkin-Elmer Corporation of Norwalk, Connecticut. In addition to the photographs taken by the Super-Schmidt Camera, over 8000 exposures were made using meteor spectrographs at Newbrook between 1952 and 1957, adding considerably to scientific knowledge about meteors and the upper atmosphere.

In 1957, the Newbrook Observatory captured international attention. On October 9,1957 Art Griffen, a scientist attached to the Observatory, took the first photograph on the North American continent of the world's first satellite: Sputnik 1. The successful launch of Sputnik by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is one of the most significant events in the history of the 20th century. It signalled the beginning of the space race, at the same time as shaking the comfortable view that the United States of America enjoyed a vast technological advantage over the USSR. For the next three decades space exploration and the military potential of space were central to both science and international relations.

(Site Information Summary)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0529
Designation File: DES 1853
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 81401
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1853)
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