Sharing the stars

Zainab Al-Mehdar
Pontiac January 27, 2022
There’s nothing like a dark sky to allow for the perfect evening of stargazing. No showers, no moon, just the stars and the wonder in everyone’s eyes. This was the inspiration behind Aylmer resident Stephan Paape, founder of AstroPontiac, who wanted to share his love of astronomy with different communities and host activities in the region.
Growing up Paape loved astronomy but never had any telescopes for viewing. After buying one in 2001, he loved it and gradually got a bigger one. But observing the sky is much more fun with people and he got that opportunity to do so through a silent auction where he offered an “evening with the telescope” to a couple in the Pontiac who bid on it. Visiting the region for the first time he recognized that the quality of the sky was nothing compared to where he was living in Aylmer.
This sparked the idea to start a non-profit and host activities in the region. He started it in 2011 and over time they have fundraised for an observatory that they built in Gatineau Park. They also do school visits and community events with a portable planetarium.
The goal of starting the organization was to offer up accessible family-friendly astronomy events for people to enjoy the night sky. You’re always told to find a dark night sky but sometimes people don’t know where to go so that is what he hopes to offer. A place people can come and see Saturn for the first time or the Perseid meteors in August.
“For me it’s really about sharing, that’s the most important thing. I love giving people a taste of astronomy and if they want to explore further whether it’s through getting a telescope or even just through books, I think that’s amazing,” said Paape.
Paape recalls when his daughter was about four or five they would go out in their driveway and he remembers the first time she saw the moon, she said “dad it’s bumpy,” and it was the look in her eyes and the curiosity and excitement that she felt that made him want to provide that to others. Through those events, he is able to introduce others to a whole new world beyond earth.
“When you show kids something like the Andromeda Galaxy, which is the closest full galaxy to our own Milky Way, you tell them that the light that they’re looking at is between one and two million years old and that’s how long it’s taken to travel to us. And then time starts to sort of bend and you get this appreciation. I think it’s really amazing,” said Paape.
A fun activity for him is helping people spot planets and differentiating them from stars. The moon, sun and planets tend to follow a similar path through the sky called the ecliptic and if you follow that it’s the key to finding the planets, he explained. This activity most often can be done without a telescope or binoculars and so kids and adults alike are able to discover cool things and walk away from that event having spotted a planet and knowing that a star twinkles but a planet omits a more steady light.
His favourite part about organizing these events is the people’s side of it and being able to share his passion for astronomy with others. “I just love the fact that it opens up a whole new way of looking at the world and the universe. It really changes how we relate to our planet and other people when we realize where we are and what we share. It is very much the people side of it that makes me happy,” he said.
For this summer Paape mentioned they are mostly hoping to build back participation and get back to their regularly scheduled events at Gatineau Park in June. In the future, they hope to raise funds to get better equipment and offer families and astronomy buffs a more hands-on experience.

Stephan Paape started AstroPontiac to share his love of astronomy with community members.


This article is available free to all subscribers to The Equity. If you are a subscriber, please enter your email address and password below.


If you are a subscriber but have not yet set up your online account, please contact Liz Draper at to do so.


To become a subscriber to The Equity, please use our Subscribe page or contact

Upcoming Events