If you’ve ever visited the HR MacMillan Space Centre, then chances are you’ve interacted with some of our incredible staff. These dedicated people make it possible to create amazing experiences for our visitors year after year.
We spoke to two of our longest-serving staff members to learn about their experience. Terry and Allen Soone are brothers who have worked at the Space Centre for over 40 years in the Guest Services department. Here’s what they had to say.
Terry: I enjoy helping others make the most of their time here. Many go out of their way to visit us, whether it’s for a school trip or an individual drop-in.
Allen: My favourite part of the job is the people I work with. I am grateful to the staff who helped me learn the job in my early years and all the staff I worked with who made the Space Centre an enjoyable and memorable place for all visitors.
Terry: My early school trips included many sites, from the Law Courts to the Space Needle, but my most memorable trip was to the Centennial Museum and Planetarium. My interest in physics and astronomy and general curiosity led me to find my niche in Guest Services.
Allen: I was hired at the young age of 17 in 1975. The opportunity to work at the Planetarium, Centennial Museum, and Maritime Museum (which back then all functioned under one association) was very appealing. What has kept me here for so long is my interest in contributing to the development of each institution. Being in an area with a park near the water has been ideal!
Terry: The institution has remained relevant throughout the years. I’ve seen it all, from ‘go anywhere’ admissions, high creativity times when programs and displays were created in-house, and laser light shows that kept audiences returning. Not to mention special events like royal visits, space phenomena, space camps, and Dedicate a Star promotions! We’re like a cultural oasis surrounded by residences and water.
Allen: I’ve been working here for 48 years. When the HR Macmillan Planetarium opened in 1968, the Planetarium theatre and auditorium were the only two places available for shows. The addition of the Gordon Southam Observatory in 1979 made community astronomy possible.
Buoyed by the popularity of laser shows in the late 1970s, the laser rock shows ran for 33 years starting from 1979. The addition of the Cosmic Courtyard, Groundstation Canada Theatre, and the Virtual Voyage simulator ride in 1997 broadened our educational and entertainment capacities significantly – and also necessitated an increase in our staff talent pool.
There was a three-year period (2010-2013) during which the Space Centre went through some big changes. The simulator ride ran its course by 2010, the laser rock shows came to an end in 2012, and a new digital planetarium system replaced Harold the star projector at the beginning of August 2013. These changes led to a stronger emphasis on our educational mandate and a different direction for entertainment (ie. Cosmic Nights).
Allen: My favourite event was a planetarium show in 1991 called China Stars. My brother and I portrayed Chinese astronomers who witnessed the supernova explosion that produced the Crab Nebula in the year 185. We dressed in specially designed costumes and facsimiles of ancient Chinese astronomical devices were made to use as props in the presentation. Our mother and father portrayed the empress and emperor of China, also adorned in colourful costumes. There was a special evening event for the debut of the show that our friends and relatives were able to attend.
Terry: The virtual voyage simulator experiences helped keep the Space Centre afloat during challenging economic times. Unfortunately, it made me feel queasy and revealed possible dyslexia!
As far as favourite memories, I once witnessed a man carrying his infant son place $20 on the front desk and state that his son would have his own seat. I also recall seeing the prime minister smile and wave as he left the building after a planetarium show. I’ve also had the honour of being bumped from the front desk by Trevor Linden so he could hand out goodies to kids during a special event.
Allen: I’d like to see a display that explains the history of Harold the star projector. Harold was a celebrity back in the day. The voice was provided by local entertainer Bill Reiter, which gave Harold a distinct and lovable personality. For 45 years, Harold was the star performer for many public and school planetarium shows and a big contributor to the laser rock shows. Many admirers would like to see him resurrected someday.
Terry: It would be great for the auditorium to get more use. I would love to see the Surfrajettes or Los Straitjackets do a gig here.
Terry: I’ve visited the Chicago Institute, Louvre, Toronto planetariums and more. Our advantage at the Space Centre is the proximity to nearby museums, Bard, Music Academy, Archives, the beaches, and a pleasant park setting.
Allen: Our place is situated in a quaint, more inviting and humble setting than many other planetariums, such as the ones in New York, Chicago, and London.
Terry: I almost turned down the opportunity to be here to work at the PNE. I ended up choosing to work at Vanier Park and a few years later I suggested to my manager that she interview my brother during a time when we were short-staffed. We share many similar interests, so I am happy to have him as a co-worker.
Allen: I had a keen interest in space and planets in my youth. My brother started working here in 1972, and when the opportunity came for me three years later, I was ready. Over the years we’ve been mistaken for one another by numerous staff, but I feel like we have developed our individual work styles. Sibling rivalry has rarely been an issue.
Terry: I may have ended up at another attraction or been a public servant in an educational or financial institution.
Allen: I may have considered becoming an elementary school teacher. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids. I used to run a program for 8- to 12-year-olds and was a camp director for the summer camps through my church for several years.
Plan your next visit to the Space Centre and be sure to say hello to Terry, Allen, and our other friendly staff.