The site was part of a 76.5 hectare (189 acre) former farmstead purchased by the University of Toronto in order to build a new research Observatory. The new David Dunlap Observatory, which opened in 1935, included a dome housing a 74-inch (1.88m) reflector telescope and an Administration Building with three smaller telescope domes. At the time it opened, the main telescope was the world’s second largest, and it remains the largest in Canada today. The original farmstead building and related heritage features remain part of the site. By 2008, the Observatory was no longer able to conduct cutting-edge astronomical research, and the University sold the property to a developer. The sale and subsequent development proposal caused concern in the community, and the Town passed a heritage designation by-law in September of 2009 with the aim of protecting the features on the property which are of cultural heritage significance. Ultimately, the developer agreed to transfer 45 hectares of the original property to the Town to allow the creation of a major public green space. To ensure that this new public space will be designed, restored, programmed, and operated in a manner that reflects the input and best interests of the community, the Town commissioned a master plan for the site.
The Master Plan, prepared by JRS and completed in 2016, sets out a comprehensive, phased plan for the creation of David Dunlap Observatory Park, a unique and important destination park, highlighting the Observatory, that will serve the residents of Richmond Hill and attracts visitors from across the GTA. The Master Plan resulted from a comprehensive planning process with an emphasis on community engagement. The planning process was divided into two main phases: Phase 1 - Principles and Options Report, and Phase 2 - Master Plan Document.
The purpose of Phase 1 was to identify a set of principles to guide the development of the Master Plan and develop options for design themes, programming, circulation, access, facilities and other park components. With the benefit of this input, two conceptual options for the Master Plan were proposed, representing different visions for the site. Option 1 was based on the Observatory and a potential planetarium, and envisioned a GTA-wide destination park. Option 2 was focused on a local destination park, with the Observatory being one component of many. Ultimately, a modified version of Option 1 was preferred, incorporating some of the best features of both options. The final Master Plan included an overall concept plan, a list of key principles and how those are reflected in the plan, a set of detailed design recommendations to guide development, phasing, a preliminary budget, and suggestions for branding and marketing the new park.
“David Dunlap Observatory Park will be one of the preeminent public parks in the Greater Toronto Area, where visitors come to see Canada’s historic observatory, celebrate the stars and enjoy acres of natural parkland. It will be a treasured place that embodies discovery, education, sustainability and inclusion and, in so doing, forms part of the identity of Richmond Hill.” - Master Plan Vision Statement