Nova East is the longest running star party in Atlantic Canada - 28 years (in 2014). This article contains some historical information about Nova East that I wanted to capture before it was forgotten. It is very much a work-in-progress (or a work-barely-started!).
The Early Years Before Nova East
Nova East was not the first camping-related astronomy event that the Halifax Centre of the RASC organized. The early ones were called COWs (Camping Observing Weekends). These were held before the modern term "Star Party" was in common use.
Randall Brooks said (slightly edited) of the first COW:
I believe our first COW (Camping Observing Weekend) was 1977 at Blomidon Provincial Park. Who remembers the lost youth member in 1978 — fortunately he was found at dawn unhurt though a bit embarrassed! We then moved to Keji in 1979. In 1981 it was in a camping ground just south of Keji but I think that was just the one year.
Roy Bishop said in the July 2009 issue of Nova Notes:
From 1982 - 1984 near Albany, Annapolis County at Dr Holden's Trout Lake Observatory. In 1985 it was back at Keji and then the 1986 COW - the last - was held at West Point.
Larry Bogan said:
The first RASC outing I could find was on July 28-29 of 1978 but it was only a note on an old calendar and I don't have a location. The first notes on the event is in 1980 when we met at Keji at the group campground on July 18-20. I also have notes on a camp out at Trout Lake in 1983 on Aug 13-14 (That is at Dr Holden's observatory). I know one year we had the camp-out at Blomidon Provincial Park but can find no record of that. In the 1990's it was at Fundy NP and I attended some of the earlier ones.
Dave Chapman reports that the 1985 COW was held at the Keji Park Group Campground with public observing at Kedge Beach. The 1986 COW was held in PEI hosted by a female member living there, but the latter was poorly attended and the weather was poor.
The COW was also held for a number of years at Dr. Holden's property on the South Mountain.
Nova East Founding
In 1987, Nova East was founded and held at the Micmac Group Campground at Fundy National Park. It was organized by Glenn Roberts, the observing chairman at the time, but he had moved to PEI before the event took place - given that the weather was so bad in PEI, he decided not to attend himself! I had joined the Centre in the fall of 1986, so this was my first Nova East (or COW for that matter). With no signs, it was difficult for me to find the site - I was confused when I saw the BC license plate of member Jim MacGuigan who had just moved back to Nova Scotia! I stayed Friday night, then continued on to Ontario on a road trip. There were no T-Shirts available that first year.
A partnership with Fundy National Park was established whereby we provided public astronomy talks followed by public observing and the group camping fees were waived. The public observing was generally held next to the park administration building close to the ocean, so it often suffered from fog ("Fundy Fog, lots of fog!").
By siting the event in southeastern New Brunswick, we were able to attract a following of astronomers from southern New Brunswick clubs, including the Saint John, Moncton, and later Hampton Astronomy Clubs. We occasionally also attracted a few attendees from PEI, Quebec, and Maine - notably Greg Palman from Aurora, ME who attended for many years and remains a member of the Halifax Centre. Other star parties organized by other groups have been held sporadically (Astro Atlantic - also held in Fundy Park, Mt. Carlelton SP, Highland Star Partythe Dam Star Party, among others).
The event has generally taken place on the weekend closest to the New Moon from about mid-August to Labour Day weekend - we always hoped for a nice cold front to go through just before NE! In 1994, it was held on the Thanksgiving Weekend, but it was so cold, so that experiment was a unique one.
After a number of years of being fogged out at the near-sea-level group campsite, Nova East was moved to the Chignecto South overflow campground, which was about 300 metres elevation - this protected us from most of the coastal fog.
The Move to Smiley's Provincial Park
In 2000, Nova East was moved to Smiley's Provincial Park, near Windsor, NS, where it remains today. This move was made due to the initiative of Daryl Dewolfe, after we suffered four years of bad weather at Fundy Park and the observation that Halifax Centre members were largely organizing a star party for New Brunswick astronomers. With the four hour drive, few Halifax Centre members actually attended. It was put by then president Clint Shannon in the August 1999 Nova Notes:
The weather at Fundy during the past four Nova East star parties has certainly left much to be desired. Perhaps the time has come to consider holding Nova East at a location with a better weather probability. Daryl Dewolfe has had a look at Smiley’s Provincial Park located just a few minutes drive from St. Croix. This location will be looked into for a future Nova East. It could result in larger turnouts from the Halifax Centre members.
Note: Need list of main speakers: Peter Ceravolo (2001), John Dobson, Terry Dickinson, Alan Dyer (2015)