In July of 1959, Queen Elizabeth II visited Edmonton. To commemorate the visit of Her Royal Highness and Prince Philip, a planetarium was built in Coronation Park.
At the time, the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium was the only structure in the park. More impressively, it was the only public planetarium in Canada.
The QEP gives tribute to the stars with its shape as a sci-fi spaceship. Inside, there are polished marble walls, terrazzo floors and red leather padded doors. A fantastic arrangement of pot lights speckles the ceiling in the loop surrounding the dome, completely random in order. Gold anodized aluminium frames hold the floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around the circular structure. The dramatic dome is, of course, the most sensational feature of the planetarium’s interior and exterior.
The aesthetic value of the building has never been disputed, but, since its closure at the end of1983, the City of Edmonton struggled with the practicality of the QEP. After much discussion on what to do with it, City Council designated the QEP as a Municipal Historic Resource, protecting it from demolition. As for functionality, it is fitting that the City of Edmonton is renovating the space. Now, the focus is on recreating a functional space while preserving the ’60s modernist style. The Telus World of Science (TWOSE) plans to utilize the space once the project is complete. The refurbished QEP is to have wheelchair accessible public washrooms and provide a space for community events, production programs and small-scale star displays. Alan Nursall, CEO of the TWOSE, says the QEP is full of historical and architectural significance. Opening a public planetarium was a big deal in 1960.
“Some say it eventually lost its lustre and had to close, but no it didn’t! Eventually it spawned this place,” Nursall says. “It closed because we built a whole new science centre, that’s how successful it was.”
Tkalcic Bengert was commissioned to create plans for the restoration, a firm which has designs reflected in high-profile projects such as Rogers Place and the renovation of the Winspear Centre. The QEP is scheduled to open by the end of 2019 in time for the 2020 International Planetarium Society Conference held in Edmonton next June. An official agreement between the city and TWOSE has yet to be made, but both parties are operating on the assumption that the partnership will be formalized soon.
“We want to preserve this amazing legacy,” Nursall says. “We want the citizens of Edmonton to be proud of it and celebrate what it meant to the city, and we want to celebrate the people who were smart enough to create the QEP in the first place.”
This article appears in the September 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton