At the dawn of the 1960s, with the excitement and glamour of space travel capturing the public imagination, Canada launched a space race of its own: within the decade six new civic planetariums were constructed in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Toronto’s McLaughlin Planetarium, named after Oshawa industrialist and philanthropist Colonel R.S. McLaughlin, opened on October 26, 1968, adjacent to the Royal Ontario Museum at 100 Queen’s Park Crescent West.
Architects Allward and Gouinlock composed the McLaughlin Planetarium with geometric simplicity and Classical symmetry: a cylindrical central structure, set upon a raised podium, is ringed by a octagonal midsection and capped by a hemispherical dome. The dome itself consists of inner and outer shells of reinforced concrete sandwiching an insulating layer of urethane foam. The outer shell is 91 feet in diameter and only two-and-a-half inches thick; the inner shell is lined with white-painted aluminum projection panels, lap-jointed for smoothness and perforated for acoustic control.
Under the dome were 340 seats surrounding a massive Zeiss planetarium projector, which featured two spherical primary projectors at each end of its dumbbell-shaped structure. Twisting and turning on a pair of articulated arms, the projector loomed over the audience like a giant mechanical insect during shows. 85 secondary slide and video projectors further enhanced visual presentations. The remainder of the planetarium included an entrance lobby, library and gift shop on the main floor, a lecture hall in the lower level and an exhibition gallery and passageway to the Royal Ontario Museum on the second floor. Planned but not built were a 550-seat conventional theatre, a parking garage and an underground link to the Museum subway station. Renovations during the late 1970s and early 1980s, largely to allow an addition to the ROM, demolished some interior spaces and reconfigured others.
The McLaughlin Planetarium closed in November 1995, following budget cuts by the Ontario government, and its exhibits, interior fixtures and planetarium projector were removed. Plans by the museum in 2004 to replace the planetarium with a 46-storey luxury condominium tower met with considerable public opposition, and in 2009 the property was sold to the University of Toronto to accommodate expansions of their law and business faculties. The building is currently used by the ROM as office and storage space.
Allward and Gouinlock was formed in 1935 by University of Toronto graduates Hugh Allward (1899-1971) and G. Roper Gouinlock (1896-1979). The firm’s major postwar projects include Sunnybrook Hospital (2075 Bayview Avenue, 1948); a showroom and offices for Massey-Harris (954 King Street West, 1948; demolished); an avant-garde extension to the Mechanical Engineering Building at the University of Toronto (5 King’s College Circle, 1948); the Duplate Canada Building (50 St. Clair Avenue West, 1951); the Veterans’ Memorial Buildings in Ottawa (284 and 344 Wellington Street, 1956 and 1962); the Ford Motor Company of Canada headquarters in Oakville (The Canadian Road, 1959; demolished); the Dentistry Building at the University of Toronto (124 Edward Street, 1959); the Hockey Hall of Fame (Exhibition Place, 1962; demolished); the Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories at the University of Toronto (80 St. George Street, 1963); and Atkinson College at York University (4700 Keele Street, 1966). Allward and Gouinlock was also a member of a consortium of architectural firms responsible for the Government of Ontario complex at Queen’s Park (1968 and 1972).