The McLaughlin Planetarium, from its opening on October 26, 1968 to its closing on November 5, 1995, was one of the world's leading planetariums. It was part of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and was located just south of it. Planning for the planetarium in the 1960s was spurred by growing interest in space and astronomy, by the encouragement and support of the University of Toronto Department of Astronomy and by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), and by a generous donation from businessman and philanthropist Colonel Samuel McLaughlin. At the time of the planning, the ROM was part of the University, but became independent in 1968. Dr. Henry C. King was Curator from 1968 to 1976, and Dr. Thomas R. Clarke (a University of Toronto PhD in Astronomy) was Curator from then until 1995.
The heart of the planetarium was a 340-seat theatre, with a 23m diameter dome, and a type 23/6 analogue projector made by Kombinat VEB Carl Zeiss in Jena (then in East Germany). On the lower floors of the Planetarium were an exhibit area (increasingly hands-on as time progressed), a 200-seat lecture room, a library, meeting rooms, and a small gift shop. The exhibit area included a “Stellarium”, a 3D model of the thousands of stars nearest to the sun. Planetarium programs included public or children's programs on general astronomy and space topics, school programs, music-themed laser-light shows, and occasional specialized shows for university classes or academic groups. The Planetarium also hosted the regular meetings of the RASC Toronto Centre (branch).
The closing of the Planetarium in 1995 was controversial. It is true that attendance had decreased significantly in 1978-82 when the ROM was being renovated (and closed for two years), but attendance had rebounded and, unlike most planetariums, the McLaughlin was breaking even, financially. It is more likely that it was closed in response to the Conservative government's “common sense revolution”. The fate of the provincially-supported cultural facilities was uncertain. The ROM could achieve a budget cut by closing the Planetarium, and perhaps using the site for more lucrative purposes. In any case, the closing was unfortunate, as interest in astronomy and space had continued, attendance was strong and, soon after closing, space and astronomy became compulsory parts of the elementary and secondary school science curricula. The ROM continues to offer some astronomy programs, using small portable planetariums.
After the closing, the projector was sold to York University for $1 (but never used). The building was used briefly as a children's museum, and then as the site for a Lord of the Rings exhibit. Plans to erect a luxury condominium building on the site were unsuccessful, due to public opposition. The building and site were sold to the University of Toronto in 2009 – probably to enable expansion of the Law and/or Business faculties. Thus, the University has been both the midwife and the undertaker of this fine educational and cultural facility.
MacRae, D.A. (1965), Planning the McLaughlin Planetarium, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 59, 249-51.