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John Mason Grant (1912–2002)

Published onJan 01, 2002
John Mason Grant (1912–2002)

Jack M. Grant, as he preferred to be known, a long-time Canadian meteor astronomer, passed away in Orillia, Ontario on 5 March 2002. His father, Lewis John Mason Grant was an artist, while his mother, Daisy Constance Hilda née White Grant, devoted herself to maintaining the household. Lewis was independently wealthy; a family fortune had been amassed farming indigo in India during the period of Queen Victoria’s extended mourning and his modest inheritance was sufficient to support the family. Both parents engaged in home schooling for their children and created a rich intellectual climate for the family. Jack, their oldest son, was born in Toronto on 25 September 1912. In 1914, Lewis and Daisy moved to a heavily forested fifty-three acre farm in Severn Township near Orillia, where Lewis did some farming but mainly continued his artistic pursuits.

Adept in mathematics and science and brought up under the dark night skies in rural Ontario, it was thus natural that Jack would learn to make his own reflecting telescope and became an amateur astronomer. He exhibited that intimate knowledge of the sky that often defines the serious amateur. While functioning as an amateur, Jack met and was strongly influenced by Peter Millman, who was at the University of Toronto at the time. Millman’s influence was no doubt responsible for Jack’s lifetime interest in meteors. Wartime service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, in the field of aerial photography, provided an opportunity to attend the University of Toronto, where Jack studied astronomy. After graduation Jack joined the staff of the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa and was soon posted to the Meanook Meteor Observatory at Meanook, Alberta. From 1954 to 1970 he was in charge of the meteor observations at Meanook. Many of the most detailed meteor spectra obtained at that time were recorded at Meanook, together with the nearby Newbrook Meteor Observatory.

Jack was also involved in three Alberta meteorite falls. He conducted many of the interviews with witnesses to the important Abee fall in 1952. Jack found a fist-sized piece of the large Bruderheim event in 1960 and he found the “main mass” of the Vilna fall in 1967, a small fragment retrieved from the snow on a frozen lake weighing only 0.094 gram. When the Alberta stations were closed, Jack continued in similar observational projects near Ottawa until retirement in 1977.

As a student of scientific history, Jack Grant had a comprehensive knowledge of many subjects. A cloudy interval during an observing session was quite rewarding if Jack could be persuaded to talk about the early history of photography, polar exploration, ballooning or aviation. (One should distinguish carefully between the first powered,. heavier-than-air flight and the first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air success.) Jack mastered several foreign languages. In the post-Sputnik period he taught himself to be a competent translator of scientific Russian. Although he had a retiring nature, Jack maintained many strong friendships among his scientific colleagues.

Jack Grant was a lifelong bachelor and is survived by two brothers, William Maling Grant and Oliver Montague Grant.

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