The RASC Toronto Centre owns and operates the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory (or CAO) on the Blue Mountains. It is like a clubhouse. We consider it one of the benefits of membership in the RASC Toronto Centre. Many of our members regularly use the CAO for astronomical observing and imaging. It is also one of the sites for our annual awards picnic. Members can have their own 10' by 10' lot, for a fee, so to permanently set up their equipment. Members may also rent a large locker for storing their telescope equipment.
The Toronto Centre built the CAO with its own funds and considerable volunteer effort. The on-going operation and maintenance, not to mention up-keep, of the CAO obviously costs the Toronto Centre money. In order to offset some of these expenses, RASC Toronto Centre members visiting or using the CAO pay fees.
The E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory is also supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Successful grant applications in 2002 and 2008 allowed for the acquisition to upgraded telescope equipment and audio-visual equipment for education and public outreach as well as an accessibility ramp, deck, and other accessibility fixtures.
Who May Use the CAO
Primarily, the CAO is for RASC Toronto Centre members, in good standing. They pay day-use fees or have purchased, in advance, an annual pass.
A couple of times a year we entertain and educate the general public. We host the occasional star party for community groups and we often run a public open house in the fall. We have used the CAO for RASC National Office business. Often, these groups make a donation to the Toronto Centre.
Also, some not-for-profit or corporate groups book the facility for their private functions. There are different fee schedules applied for these groups. During private events we ask members refrain from booking a visit.
We are sometimes asked by amateur astronomers of other organisations or club members if they may use the CAO. The short answer is, unfortunately, no, not directly. There are a number of cost and insurance considerations.
Instead, we encourage people to consider existing options through established and understood frameworks wherein one may gain access to the CAO. We outline two options below. Both entail joining the RASC.
CAO Access Fees
In general, everyone who uses the CAO pays fees. Fees for using the CAO vary depending on the number in the party and if staying indoors or elsewhere on the grounds. If one anticipates visiting the CAO several times in a year, we offer annual passes, which quickly work out cheaper than the per-use fees.
Two examples to clarify daily fees.
Note: fees are subject to change without notice.
Use of the Facility
The CAO is, in some ways, like a time-share or a ski lodge. It offers basic amenities, a full kitchen, beds, two bathrooms, creature comforts, etc. But all food and drink, bedding, toiletries, towels, etc. is the responsibility of each person using the CAO.
All visits to the CAO must be booked in advance. A co-ordinator confirms reservations. The Supervisor on duty allocates the sleeping quarters as visitors arrived to best maximize the facilities. As such, members cannot reserve beds or specific bedrooms.
The house and grounds (and the Tony Horvatin Observatory, without telescope) are available to all RASC Toronto Centre or affiliate members. During non-supervised stays, a key set can be borrowed from key holders located around the GTA. Access to the Geoff Brown Observatory (with computer driven telescope and accessories) is only available when a supervisor is on duty.
Pets are not allowed inside the house or GBO. Visitors are asked to scoop up after the pets.
Insurance and Safety
Everyone visiting and staying at the CAO must be a RASC member, a partner of the member, or a family member. Friends of members are permitted but are not covered under family passes, in terms of fees. Visitors must be accompanied by a member primarily for insurance purposes. The RASC national organisation and the Toronto Centre have insurance in place to protect all parties visiting the CAO. Again the CAO is considered a private facility and its primary use is for members.
A notable exception to this when we conduct public outreach events, like our summer star party or the fall open house. Obviously, we invite members of the general public to attend lectures and enjoy some astronomical observing. And these people then vacate the premises after the educational or public event. They do not stay on the grounds for an extended time or overnight.
All members using the observatory are provided a copy of the CAO Site Facilities Manual. They are expected to read and follow the manual.
RASC Toronto Centre is a volunteer-run organisation (like most amateur astronomy clubs). And so to the CAO is supported by volunteers. The supervisors who open and close the facility and operate the telescopic equipment are volunteers. On weekends, the supervisor and members maintain and keep up the premises. It is hoped that all who use the facility, where possible, assist in its upkeep and maintenance. This includes lawn care, cleaning the house, minor repairs, garbage removal, and miscellaneous chores.
We also conduct 2 to 3 work parties through the year typically. These events are for tackling large projects, such as painting, repairs, minor construction, storm window maintenance, etc. Members are asked to assist or contribute at these events. Often the regular users and supervisors are present in large numbers.
Visiting the CAO
We are happy to entertain brief visits to the facility by individuals. This might be for other RASC members from other centres who happen to be in the area. Or some neighbours across the way wondering what all the red lights meant. A NOVA course participant or a person from another astronomy group can pop in.
We are happy to support group visits. These should be arranged in advance if the group is a considerable size. We can give a brief tour of the facility and offer some time observing. We are always grateful to receive donations in these instances.
These visits are considered just that: an individual or a small group curious about the CAO and celestial events. Unfortunately, we cannot receive people who wish to stay for an extended time or who wish to set up and use their own equipment if they are not current RASC Toronto Centre members.
The RASC Toronto Centre is very fortunate to have the CAO and we think it a wonderful benefit of membership. The ongoing maintenance and operation of the CAO requires constant financial input and generous support of our members and our volunteers.
If one wishes to enjoy our dark skies, comfortable dwelling, research grade equipment, and the camaraderie with fellow astronomers, we encourage them to join the RASC Toronto Centre, book their visit to the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory, and pay their CAO access fees.
The CAO committee