There are few places better than Alberta to look up into the night sky and see the majesty that is the universe.
Bon Accord, a central Alberta town of about 1,500, has taken this to heart with their successful bid to become Canada's first official Dark Sky community.
Bon Accord, 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, is just the 11th town in the world to receive this distinction.
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The International Dark Sky Association, located in Tucson, Arizona, established the Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to combat light pollution. To achieve this starry designation a community must have stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative programs.
In total, there are 47 areas designated a Dark Sky Place. This includes the aforementioned 11 communities, 26 parks, nine reserves and one sanctuary.
Randolph Boyd, Bon Accord's mayor, said his community joining this celestial-focused group marks a "new beginning" for the town.
'A full circle loop'
On Saturday, the town came together to launch Canada's first international Dark Sky zone during their 5th annual Equinox Festival. To celebrate, they brought in a man who knows the starry sky intimately — Chris Hadfield.
"They work with all of their lighting so they truly get to appreciate the beauty of the sky and the northern lights," said Hadfield.
"So, they asked me, as someone who has been in the dark sky, to come and help celebrate."
Hadfield was the keynote speaker at the launch and gave a speech focusing on what it's like to traverse the Milky Way, the importance of space flights to Canada and conquering the fears. He decided to end with a little music.
'They asked me, as someone who has been in the dark sky, to come and help celebrate.' - Chris Hadfield
The order of Canada recipient used to live in Alberta – in Cold Lake when he was a fighter pilot – and one of his children was born in his province. He said returning to his former home for a reason such as this was "lovely."
"I was inspired when I was living here by some things that other people were doing. Now to have a chance to maybe be a part of that role is a lovely thing. To me, it's just a full circle loop."
'A quite intensive process'
In order to receive the distinction and a visit from Canada's most well-known spaceman, Bon Accord put in a lot of work.
"It was a quite intensive process actually," said Vicki Zinyk, Bon Accord's chief administrative officer.
"The town underwent a structuring to reconnect with its identity and in doing so we connected with our residents and engaged them in an analysis that helped us determine what we wanted to be."
'With less light, it keeps you asleep longer with a deeper sleep. It's better for nocturnal animals who need the dark as well.' - Vicki Zinyk
The town took part in implementing a progressive and comprehensive outdoor lighting program which included developing a bylaw. The bylaw calls for shielded light fixtures and put limits on the amount of light. This includes giving residents eight years to change all their lights to down shielded lights and all commercial signs changing from white light to red light.
Zinyk said the bylaws also brings about health benefits for all of Bon Accords residents.
"With less light, it keeps you asleep longer with a deeper sleep. It's better for nocturnal animals who need the dark as well."
IDA executive director J. Scott Feierabend said that he hopes Bon Accord will inspire other Canadian municipalities to dim the lights and gaze upwards to appreciate the beauty of the night sky.
"We are pleased to honour the efforts of Bon Accord in setting a laudable example for other cities in the Canadian West," he said.
"We hope other municipalities throughout Canada will follow the town's lead."