Chant, Clarence Augustus

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Clarence Augustus Chant (1865-1956) was the founder of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and of astronomy generally at the University of Toronto. He played the most significant role in the strengthening and growth of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. For these reasons, he is considered the "co-father of astronomy in Canada", along with John S. Plaskett, who played a parallel role in the development of astronomy within the federal government. Chant was born in Hagermans Corners, Ontario, taught school for three years after high school and teachers college, received a BA in Physics in 1890 from the University of Toronto, was a civil servant for a year, then returned to the University as a Fellow (1891) and Lecturer (1892) in Physics. He obtained an MA from the University of Toronto in 1900, and a PhD from Harvard in 1901, then returned to a professorial position. In 1905, he offered astronomy courses in the "Sub-Department of Astrophysics" which later became the Department of Astronomy. The Department considers 1905 to be the year of its birth. Chant was the sole member of the department until 1924, when R.K. Young arrived. Chant retired as Professor Emeritus in 1935, and lived out the rest of his life at Observatory House at the David Dunlap Observatory.

Chant did not have an active research program, though he did take part in several solar eclipse expeditions. His primary activities were teaching, and the communication of astronomy and related sciences to students, teachers, and the public. He was the author of Our Wonderful Universe (Ryerson, 1928), and co-author of several high school physics and mathematics textbooks. He wrote many popular articles, and gave many public lectures, and one of these gave rise, eventually, to the founding of the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). When it opened in 1935, the DDO housed the second-largest telescope in the world.

Chant also played the guiding role in the development of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He joined the forerunner of the RASC in 1892, and served as Editor of its Journal (called the Transactions from 1903 to 1906), and of its annual Observers Handbook for 50 years. He served as President in 1904-7. During Chant's presidency, the RASC established a Centre (branch) in Ottawa; it now has 29 Centres. The RASC also established a Gold Medal, awarded to the top first-class-honours graduate from the Astronomy program at the University of Toronto. He wrote almost 400 reviews and notes for the Journal of the RASC over the years.


Northcott, R.J. (1968), The Growth of the RASC and Its Guiding Mentor C.A. Chant, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 61, 218-225.