Roy Dancey

A legacy in Canadian astronomy observed

Roy Dancey (far right) stands with the Canada France Hawaii Telescope mirror and 3 colleagues

 Roy Dancey (on right) left a legacy in Canadian astronomy and most recently to UVic Libraries.

For admirers of Roy Dancey’s work, his contributions to this world are crystal clear. He enabled us to capture spectacular images of the heavens. Roy devoted a good part of his life working on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and other optical instruments that have had a lasting impact on Canadian astronomy. Through his will, Roy left another legacy. This time, honouring his wife Hilda Dancey, who predeceased him in 2019, by establishing the Hilda Dancey Library Endowment at the University of Victoria. Roy’s gift will help build and digitize research collections, which will improve access to information for scholars and students across the globe.

Who was Roy Dancey?

Born on August 15, 1919, in Toronto, Roy developed the skills to become a specialist optician on Canada’s east coast. By 1965, Roy’s expertise and proven ability to test and improve optical equipment garnered the attention of the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) (now part of NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre) in Victoria, which was beginning to work on the Queen ElizabethⅡTelescope (QEⅡ). Roy and Hilda moved across Canada together and that’s when Roy started to make his mark in Canadian astronomy.

4 men inspect the polished Canada France Hawaii Telescope mirror
Photo supplied by the National Research Council of Canada.

As the chief optician at the observatory, Roy led the optics shop from 1965 until 1986. After the cancellation of the QEⅡ project, Roy’s skills won out in a competition against French opticians to form and polish the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope’s (CFHT) primary and secondary mirrors.   

“Roy Dancey put Canada on the map,” says friend and astronomer John Hutchings. “The French didn’t believe we could do it, but we did—thanks to Roy. He was an equal player who wanted to pull off all of these challenging things and he did.”

 

From 1974 to 1979, Roy Dancey and NRC staff at the DAO worked on grinding, figuring, testing and polishing the 14-ton, 141-inch Cervit glass mirror for the new Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Video credit: RBCM BCA AAAA3615 / CHEK-TV fonds

Leading a crew of 10 including his son, Bruce Dancey, Roy began work on the CFHT in 1972 and spent years perfecting the mirror on the telescope. His team used precision polishing tools to grind the glass, then they would dismantle the assembly, test for imperfections and resume grinding. They repeated this process for seven years. Astronomer David Campton explains, “the mirror had to be polished to an accuracy of microns, which is wavelengths of light. It takes great skill to make optical instruments and Roy was a master at that.” When the CFHT was installed atop Mauna Kea in 1979, it was regarded as the world’s most precise large telescope and is still known to be one of the best in the world today.

CFHT transported in large crate

 

 

The CFHT primary mirror is significant not only because of its sheer magnitude, clocking in at 3.6m in diameter, but due to its precision. Photo supplied by the National Research Council of Canada.

 

 

 

 

 “The impact of the vision that Canada had in joining the CFHT transformed Canadian astronomy,” says Jim Hesser, former director of the DAO. “For the first time, Canadian astronomers entered into an international partnership to build and operate a world-class telescope at arguably the very best site on the face of the earth.” 

Following their work on the CFHT, Roy and Bruce continued to work on several different instruments, many of which are still in use today. They produced new primary mirrors for the 1.8-m and 1.2-m telescopes at the observatory and a host of smaller telescope optics, spectrograph optics and associated test optics. According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Asteroid (4021) Dancey was named in honour of Roy and Bruce for all their contributions to astronomy.

Roy Dancey outside of work

Even after all these years, numerous colleagues and friends remember Roy as a kind man who was a great leader and a master at his craft. He was an unassuming man, but like all the astronomers at the DAO, he was enthralled with the work they were doing. When not working, Roy and colleagues would often enjoy a game of pitch and putt golf on the course that previously surrounded the main office building.

Roy retired in 1986 and colleague John Hutchings recalls that his retirement left “a huge gap” at the observatory. Retirement, at last, allowed Roy to spend more time with his wife, Hilda, whom he loved dearly. Marisa Wiens, who helped provide care for Roy in the last months of his life, says that “during his daily laps around the house, he would make a point to pick up his photo of Hilda and Bruce as a baby and kiss it every time he passed by.” 

Roy died on March 23, 2021, several months before his 102nd birthday. Soon after, UVic was notified of the generous gift Roy had made in his Will. Although he was a man of science, his gift honours his late wife’s belief that libraries are the central core of learning. The endowment will help build and maintain research collections via the licensing of electronic journals, databases, and media streaming services. It will also be used to purchase more rare and unique print items for Special Collections and University Archives. Libraries will use some of the funds to digitize existing research collections to provide vastly improved access, not just to UVic researchers, but to the entire global research community.  Acting University Librarian Lisa Goddard says “the Dancey’s generous gift aligns with UVic Libraries' foundational mandate to support research and teaching activities at the university. UVic Libraries are very grateful to Roy and Hilda Dancey for this impactful gift that will enhance our research collections for the benefit of all UVic students and faculty.”

His legacy and love for his family carry on through the Hilda Dancey Library Endowment and will benefit students and the global research community for generations to come.

For more information on leaving a gift in your Will to UVic, please contact Gregory Kuhn legacydev@uvic.ca or 250-721-6001.