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Champlain's astrolabe returns to Canada

When a 10-year-old boy found an astrolabe in the woods near Cobden, Ont. in 1867, he couldn't have guessed it would be making headlines 122 years later. The astrolabe was believed to have been lost by explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1603. After the boy found it, the navigational tool eventually ended up in a New York museum. As we learn in this 1989 CBC-TV report, the Canadian government has bought it for $250,000 and will be proudly displaying it at the new Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Que.
• The Oxford English Dictionary defines an astrolabe as "an instrument used to make astronomical measurements, typically of the altitudes of celestial bodies, and in navigation for calculating latitude, before the development of the sextant." Astrolabes weren't typically used past the 18th century.

• Although this news item suggests the astrolabe found in Cobden was definitely Champlain's, there's no solid proof that it ever belonged to the explorer. A 2004 article in The Beaver magazine was titled "The mystery of Champlain's astrolabe: legend says Samuel de Champlain misplaced a valuable scientific instrument in 1613. Evidence says otherwise." The author said the evidence "appears so weak as to be ephemeral, and is itself an intriguing historical artifact. Long overdue in receiving full consideration is the more likely case: that the instrument belonged to a missionary of the Society of Jesus - the Jesuits, the Black Robes of our turbulent seventeenth-century history."

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 28, 2010
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Julie Van Dusen
Duration: 2:04

Last updated: February 24, 2012

Page consulted on August 21, 2012

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