David Dunlap's 150th Birthday

150 years ago today, October 13th 1862, was the birthdate of David Alexander Dunlap, who is memorialized in several locations around Toronto. Both Mr. Dunlap and his wife, Jessie Donalda Bell, were born in Pembroke, Ontario. Mr. Dunlap graduated as a lawyer from Osgoode Hall, and he practiced in Mattawa. His big break was when two of his colleagues, the Timmins brothers who ran the Mattawa general store, made a deal in 1903 with a man named LaRose for a mining opportunity in what later became the Town of Cobalt. David Dunlap completed the deal and went into partnership with the Timminses, and they together heavily invested in the Porcupine Gold Rush in what is now the City of Timmins. Mr. Dunlap became wealthy and acquired a Rosedale estate on Highland Avenue, which is now the residence of the president of the University of Toronto. He and Jessie also founded the Donalda Experimental Farm in the Don River Valley, now the Donalda Club and golf course. The Dunlap family also maintained a cabin in what is now Lac Marin, Quebec, not far from Mattawa. Mr. Dunlap golfed and wrote poetry there that was collected posthumously in the anthology 'Shahwandahgooze Days', which you can download for free from Library and Archives Canada.


In 1921 David Dunlap attended an astronomy lecture at U of T given by Dr. Chant, who suggested he join the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (which he did.) Dunlap passed away in October 1924, less than 100 days before a total eclipse of the Sun was visible from Toronto on January 24th, 1925. (The same eclipse which a young Helen B. Sawyer observed with her Mount Holyoke College class on an icy Connecticut hillside.) Dr. Chant approached Mrs. Dunlap in 1926 to propose an observatory memorial to her husband, and the observatory was famously completed in 1935.

Here is the citation for David Dunlap's gravesite at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, from local historian Mike Filey's book 'Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide':


The David Dunlap Observatory was operated by the University of Toronto for many years, until the property was sold in 2008. Parts of the land around the observatory, located in what has grown up to be the centre of the Town of Richmond Hill, will be developed for housing. The new landowner for several years was assisted by the help of the RASC Toronto Centre in operating the observatory, which has seen more than ten thousand visitors and several television film units through the site since 2009 as part of an astronomy public outreach program to serve Canada's metropolis. In 2016 the Town of Richmond Hill acquired the observatory from the developer, bringing a temporary halt to observatory operations. 

The University has invested the continuing endowment from the sale into the new Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, to develop cutting-edge astrophysical technologies and make 21st-century discoveries unheard of when the original deal was struck more than 75 years ago. Dunlap Institute astronomers are already busy in diverse locations from Palomar Mountain to the Eureka research station in the high arctic.

The Dunlap Institute website can be found at:


The saga continues... 



"David Dunlap Circle" and "Jessie Drive" in the Don Mills neighbourhood are also pretty obvious.