First Meteorological Observatory

Submitted by David Phillips

The first Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory was built of wood in 1840 on King’s College grounds (University of Toronto; Figure 1). In the 1840s, the University of Toronto used to hold its shooting matches on grounds near the Observatory. Often, weather employees had to dive for cover from bullets whizzing through windows. One afternoon in July 1842, the match was too close for the liking of Sir Henry Lefroy, the Observatory's director. "Yesterday afternoon five different discharges passed through the windows of the Observatory", he wrote in a stiff note to the University protesting the location of the matches.

In 1853, John Cherriman, assistant professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, became manager of the Observatory and its program, and directed the campaign for rebuilding the Observatory. The new Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory was rebuilt and refurbished along with the Director’s residence in 1854-1855. The old wooden Observatory was torn down and replaced with a stone building on the same site (Figure 2). The Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) founded in 1871 was administered from the Observatory until 1909. On March 26, 1908, staff vacated the Observatory for 18 months and on August 5, 1909 the headquarters staff of the MSC occupied a new building at 315 Bloor Street West in Toronto (Figure 3), which was the headquarters for more than 60 years. In 1971, national headquarters’ staff of the MSC moved into a new headquarters building at 4905 Dufferin Street (Figure 4), Downsview, Ontario in suburban Toronto. By late August that year, most of the staff had been re-united in the new building after 30 years of operating out of many as six different buildings in Toronto. The new building was officially opened on October 29, 1971 by the Minister of the Environment.

Painting showing the first weather observatory on the left. Two people stand in the foreground in a field.

Figure 1: First meteorological observatory (left) on the grounds of the University of Toronto (1840-1854). Painting by W. Armstrong

A stone building. The left of the building is a square tower and the rest of the building is a single level.
Figure 2: Second meteorological observatory at the University of Toronto (1855-1908)
A brick building on the corner of a street. The left of the building is a cylinder tower.
Figure 3: Meteorological observatory and headquarters, 315 Bloor Street West in Toronto, Ontario (1909-1971). Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3022
A metal structure in front of a building. The building has the Government of Canada logo on it. Two cars are in the foreground.
Figure 4: Meteorological Service of Canada headquarters on Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON (1971-present)
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