Canada’s vast landscape and small population make it one of the best countries in the world to view the stars. British Columbia has two designated dark-sky preserves. These parks are ideal spots to stargaze as they are protected areas from light pollution. Surprisingly, both are located just outside two major cities. McDonald Park is a dark sky preserve within the city limits of Abbotsford. While Cattle Point is one of the only urban dark sky parks in Canada found just outside of Victoria.
Canada’s dark sky park was developed by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) in partnership with the Government of Canada to protect areas from light pollution and help educate the public on astronomy. There are currently 26 dark sky sites that have been designated by the RASC. These sites adopt a number of different strategies to reduce excessive use of artificial light. Some preserves replace white lights with red lights that help us keep our night vision. Some rely on motion detectors so that lights only shine when needed. Other times lights are removed altogether.
With the help of the Fraser Valley Astronomers Society, McDonald Park became a dark sky preserve in April of 2000. At the time it was only the second dark sky preserve to be designated in Canada. The park’s unique geographical location makes it perfect for stargazing. Tucked into Sumas Mountain, it is protected by the mountain from light coming from Abbotsford in the west, Chilliwack in the east, and Mission in the north. It also neighbours the Katherine Tye Ecological Reserve, one of the largest undeveloped plots of land in the area. If you plan to visit McDonald Park, remember the gates to the park close at 9 pm, so it is recommended that you park roadside and walk in with your telescope.
Cattle Point became the second park to be recognized by RASC for its dark skies. Only 15 minutes away from Victoria, Cattle Point was officially designated as an urban sky park in 2013. Urban sky parks are generally brighter than dark sky preserves but artificial lighting in the parks is still heavily restricted making them suitable for astronomers and stargazers. Cattle Point is located right on the coast offering stunning views of the stars over the ocean and is protected from the city lights of Victoria by the expanse of Oak Bay.
Dark sky preserves were first created to help educate us about astronomy. And that is still one of their major roles. But dark sky preserves have another crucial benefit because light pollution is not just impacting our view of the stars. It is also harmful to local wildlife, especially nocturnal animals. Artificial lights disrupt their circadian rhythm (their bodies’ ability to know when to wake and sleep).
If you would like to get involved in reducing light pollution in your community, one of the most significant impacts you can have is by changing your outdoor lights and choosing lighting fixtures that reduce glare, and over-illumination. See the International Dark Sky Association’s page on light pollution solutions for more information.
If you want to learn more about the stars this summer be sure to check out the Fraser Valley Astronomers’ Society, the RASC Vancouver, and the RASC Victoria websites for local events.