Despite its space-age look, the planetarium’s unique dome was modeled after the design of the hats of local natives, the Haida people.

Where can you find an impressive spaceship, precast concrete design, enormous steel crab, vintage neon signs and a time capsule mere steps away from the coast? Local and Midcentury Modern archi-tourist and blogger Ken MacIntyre lets you know.

H.R. MacMillan Planetarium and Centennial Museum

Beautifully rendered in precast white concrete and perhaps representing the forward thinking optimism of 1960s space exploration (is it a spaceship?), the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium and Centennial Museum complex—now known as the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and Museum of Vancouver (MOV)—was designed by Gerald Hamilton and named for B.C. forestry magnate Harvey Reginald MacMillan. It opened to the public in 1968.

The space itself, designed in the New Formalist style, consists of three museum wings clustered around one central core (the Planetarium) and an enclosed courtyard.

Museum of Vancouver neon
Neon signs light up the Museum of Vancouver’s ’50s Gallery.

The museum houses permanent collections and rotating exhibitions, which feature Vancouver-centric stories from the early 1900s-1970s. Of particular interest are “The ‘50s Gallery” which boasts memories (and artifacts) from the city’s prosperous post-war years, and the illuminating vintage neon exhibit “Neon Vancouver, Ugly Vancouver,” a collection of signs which in 1953 numbered over 19,000 city-wide, reputedly more neon than any other city on earth next to Shanghai.

steel crab sculpture
The stainless steel crab was gifted to the center by the women of the Vancouver Centennial Committee to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. After three whole months of welding, the statue was shipped down False Creek only two weeks before the opening of the Planetarium.

Back outside, there’s a gorgeous 20-foot tall stainless steel crab fountain sculpture at the entrance to the complex, designed in 1968 by Vancouver artist George Norris. A time capsule rests at the base of the sculpture to be opened in 2067.

Located at Vanier Park in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is noted on the Canadian Register of Historic Places as well as Vancouver’s own Heritage Register.

Oh, and the building’s spaceship-like design? It’s actually said to have been based on the conical shaped hats worn by the Coast Salish First Nations people who once resided here.

 

Ken MacIntyre is the author of the acclaimed book Reel Vancouver: An Insider’s Guide to Hollywood North, which was recommended by Lonely Planet in 2012 as the “definitive guide to screen culture in the city.” For more photos and stories of modernist destinations, check out Modtraveler.net or following Ken on Instagram @modtraveler.