The Thunder Bay Observatory is probably not something most of us in the industry are aware of or have really given much thought to as a important part of tour tourism economy. However, the Observatory represents an important piece of the tourism puzzle in that it is a visitor experience that targets a niche avid experience based traveller.
I've known about the site for a number of years and am friends with its creator. I recently had a chance to host a dinner for the SKAL International Thunder Bay chapter (http://www.sicanada.org/) out at the Observatory to introduce them to Randy McAllister, the owner and visionary behind this great hidden gem 15 minutes drive southwest of the city. While still in development, we were able to dine and listen to Randy speak about the history and purpose of the Observatory and tour the actual telescope and dome as well.
Randy's passion for science, construction, computers and astronomy have all collided to produce something different that takes advantage of our community's geography and effectively reaches an international market of like minded travellers who want to escape the light pollution of larger centers to view the sky like almost no where else within range of a major centre.
Randy picked the location southwest of Thunder Bay to ensure a clear southern view with minimal light pollution (the effect of city lights on viewing the sky clearly) The 16 foot diameter dome that he built himself houses Canada's largest privately owned telescopes available for public use.
While the Observatory's planetarium and dining facilities are still under development, Randy continues to build programming opportunities and has been receiving some fantastic media attention, both locally and on the international front. In fact, June's edition of Lake Superior Magazine (http://www.lakesuperior.com/) features Randy and his Observatory within the article entitled "The Not So Secret Thunder Bay."
At the end of our dinner and tour, our SKAL members were eagerly picking up copies of the brochures and cards to make available at their front desks for both leisure guests and corporate clients hungry to see something a little different after the sun sets in the city. Its clear that the Thunder Bay Observatory plays a role in raising the profile of the city, attracting avid sky watchers to our community and encouraging visitor retention by offering one more unique experience.
Randy offers group and individual tours of the facility, teaches astronomy at Lakehead University and hosts an event each August that provides ample room for on site camping.
For more information, visit http://www.thunderbayobservatory.com/.