Robert Petrie

(1906-66) DAO astronomer and member of the Victoria Centre.

ROBERT M. PETRIE (1906-66) came from Scotland to Canada with his parents when he was five years old. "Bert" joined the Victoria Centre at age 18 and within two years became Recorder and wrote his first paper "Variable Star Observing for Amateurs" for the Journal. Each summer during his undergraduate years he worked at the DAO observing and measuring spectra and determining orbits of spectroscopic binaries. On graduation from UBC in 1928, he secured a scholarship and went to the University of Michigan for his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees. He worked for three years at the Detroit Observatory and then returned to the DAO in 1935. One of his long-term projects was the spectroscopic study of B-stars which led to a better understanding of the structure of the Galaxy. During the War he worked in civil defense and operations research and became Lieutenant-Commander in the Navy. An excellent administrator, he was appointed Dominion Astronomer in 1964 with responsibility for the proposed Queen Elizabeth II observatory project. At home and abroad, Petrie received many honours indicative of his distinguished career in Astronomy.

The RASC benefited greatly from his talents. On many occasions he spoke to the Victoria Centre and he addressed several other Centres too. He published dozens of papers in the Journal and, as Associate Editor, instituted an informative and popular series called "Canadian Scientists Report." From 1936-41 he held office in the local Centre, including a term as President, and was national Vice-President and President (1953-57). In spite of all the heavy demands on his time, Petrie was an avid sports fan and a keen golfer. His second wife, the former Jean McDonald, was also an astronomer and his younger brother William, a physicist specializing in auroral research, was an active member of the RASC, serving at various times on the Councils of Victoria, Vancouver and Saskatoon Centres.

Peter Broughton (from Looking Up)

Further Reading

Petrie, Robert M.