Brief History

Historic Campus Photo Collage

The University of Western Ontario was officially established on March 7, 1878, but it was not until 1915 that the Physics Department was established with the appointment of Dr.E.F. Barker as Professor of Physics, who gave physics courses for pre-medical students. A physics program was organized soon thereafter and the first physics students were registered in 1919. In that year Dr. Barker resigned and his place was taken by Dr. R.C. Dearle who directed the Department for the next 30 years. Under his direction the first honors program was organized and a graduate program was started. It would be fair to say that Dr. Dearle laid the foundation on which the present department is built.

Construction on the present campus started in 1922, and the new arts building (now University College) and science building (now the Physics and Astronomy Building) opened for the first time for the 1924 summer session.  By 1939 there were 5 faculty members in the department, and by 1949 there were 14. In the years following World War II the University expanded greatly, and with it the Physics Department.

Astronomy at the university started with an Astronomy Group in the Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics, under the direction of Dr. Kingston. One of the first milestones for astronomy at Western was the construction of the Cronyn Observatory, which was opened to the public in 1941. By 1965 there were several astronomers in the Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics, and the university decided to form a separate department of astronomy.  The new Astronomy Department started in 1966 under the leadership of W. H. Wehlau with a faculty of 4, which increased to 6 by 1970.