Out of this world: Restored Edmonton planetarium preparing for liftoff

After sitting vacant and neglected for years, Edmonton’s only flying saucer-shaped structure will soon be ready to give stargazers a new view of the moon and the stars. 

Stars aligned for fully restored Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium

With its domed roof and glass walls, Edmonton's Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium was originally designed to look like a flying saucer. (City of Edmonton Archives )

After sitting vacant and neglected for years, Edmonton's only flying saucer-shaped structure will soon be ready to give stargazers a new view of the moon and the stars.

A $7-million restoration of the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium in Coronation Park is nearly complete.

Restoration work on the building is expected to be finished by the end of the year. A grand opening is slated for some time in 2020. 

The dome has been restored to its former glory with a new concrete facade. The old exterior tiles have been cleaned and reset. Inside, drywall is being hung and the walls are getting a fresh coat of paint for the first time in decades.

A new projector screen is being installed in the fully restored planetarium theatre.

The property, which was granted historic designation in 2017, will serve as an educational, reception and production space for the Telus World of Science. 

"No. 1, it's a historic building, and being the first one of its kind in Canada, we can be proud today that's part of our city inventory," said Darren Giacobbo, a program manager with the City of Edmonton.

The building, which officially opened in 1960, was constructed to  commemorate the July 21, 1959 visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

At the time of its grand opening, it was the first municipal planetarium in Canada. At its peak popularity in 1967, the planetarium welcomed 33,500 visitors a year.

The futuristic building was a big draw. The world was fascinated with space. 

"It was the first public planetarium in Canada," Giacobbo said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"In 1960, there was a lot of general interest, not just in Canada but in North America and the rest of the world, with the space race — so science, and particularly the solar system, was something that was talked about. It was a big deal." 

'A chance to explore their imaginations'

The building was shuttered in 1983 after the opening of the nearby Edmonton Space and Science Centre, which later became the Telus World of Science. 

By the time Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert was commissioned for the restoration project in 2017, the property had fallen into disrepair.

The facade was crumbling. The dome was leaking. The facility was unfairly eclipsed by its sister facility, Giacobbo said. 

"Most of the programming at the planetarium was moved over to the Telus World of Science. They kind of grew into this new facility," he said. 

"But that little seed building that captured everyone's imagination some time ago just kind of got left by the wayside."

With the restoration project on time and on budget, the building will soon be ready to capture the imagination of a whole new generation of visitors. 

"For citizens, it gives them a chance to explore their imaginations and share that interest in science." 


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Nola Keeler