By Joslyn Hildebrand
For three decades, the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium has sat unused and abandoned. That is finally about to change as construction is now underway to resurrect that star-studded space.
In July of 1959, the Queen came to town. To commemorate the visit of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II 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 planetarium in Canada.
The QEP gives tribute to the stars with its shape as a spaceship. Inside, there are polished marble walls, terrazzo floors, and red leather padded doors. A fantastic arrangement of pot lights speckle the ceiling in the loop surrounding the dome, completely random in order. Gold anodized aluminum 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 on December 31, 1983, 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.
Alan Nursall, CEO of the Telus World of Science, says the QEP is full of historical and architectural significance. Opening a planetarium was a big deal in 1960.
“Some say it eventually lost its luster 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.”
Now focus is on recreating a functional space while preserving the ’60s modernist style. The refurbished QEP will have wheelchair accessible public washrooms and provide a space for events, production programs, and small-scale star displays.
Architecture Tkalcic Bengert, a firm which has designed high-profile projects such as Rogers Place Arena and the renovation of the Winspear Centre, was commissioned to create plans for the restoration.
The QEP is no exception to the delayed construction paradigm — originally the unveiling of the new building was set for sometime in 2018. Although the deadline for the grand opening has slid a bit, the process is still moving in the right direction. The restored QEP is scheduled to open by the end of this calendar year and be an integral part of the 2020 International Planetarium Society Conference that will be held in Edmonton next June.
An official agreement between the city and the Telus World of Science has yet to be made, but both parties are involved in the design process and 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.”