In Memory of Bill Sim
July 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, so I had just finished watching the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon with residents of the Lakeside Manor Retirement Residence in Salmon Arm. This is where Bill Sim, one of the founding forces behind the Okanagan Science Centre, lived. He wasn't able to attend, and at the conclusion of the screening his daughter Roxi Hermsen arrived and announced to us all that Bill had passed away. Watching this particular documentary with his friends seemed a fitting activity to associate with Bill—this is a film filled with heroes and explorers of the early days of space travel; a film filled with determined individuals having a dream and then actually making it happen. A film of great humans, achieving great things.
You see, Bill Sim was also one of these great humans. At a time when nobody assumed a city the size of Vernon could support a science centre, Bill had a vision. He wanted science accessible to everyone. And he put in the hard work to make his vision a reality. In those early years, 28 years ago, the science centre was a room in the basement of the old Tolko building. It had no staff. All the work was completed by volunteers fueled with the love of science, like Bill. Bill and those other dedicated volunteers, including Bill’s wife Marg, worked hard and together they grew that vision. Not long after the science centre was finally able to hire its first staff member—Kevin Aschenmeier. Kevin has delivered science programming to generations of Okanagan children and is still at the science centre. And still Bill, Marg, and volunteers carried on with their work. A few years later the Science Centre moved out of the basement and into a whole building of its own - our current building—a former schoolhouse in Polson Park.
And still Bill’s dream continued to grow. From a room in a borrowed basement staffed by volunteers, the Okanagan Science Centre has grown to host over 25,000 visitors a year with planetarium shows, dinosaurs, and a range of exhibits we’ve designed and constructed ourselves, here at the science centre Bill built. On any given school day, we’ll have in excess of a hundred school children attending our programs. Each summer, hundreds more children attend our science camps. Tourists and visitors come from around the world to visit a Science Centre in a relatively small town in the north Okanagan.
Bill dreamed of science education for all our kids. Science accessible to everyone.
Bill Sim had a vision. His vision was other-oriented, to create a better world. And he put in the hard work to make his vision a reality. I can’t think of a better definition of greatness.
July 5, 2019
Executive Director, Okanagan Science Centre
Bruce Aikenhead Planetarium
The Okanagan Science Centre and its staff were greatly saddened by Bruce Aikenhead’s passing. He was a dear friend and a great contributor to our centre. He was the driving creative force behind our Planetarium—the only fixed roof planetarium in the BC interior—and our Space for Space Exhibit. The Okanagan Science Centre is in the process of upgrading our Planetarium and Space Exhibit experience, to be completed in June, 2020. To honour Bruce’s great contributions to the space program, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Okanagan Science Centre, our upgraded planetarium will be named the Bruce Aikenhead Planetarium.
Bruce’s career began as a radar engineer in WWII before becoming a flight simulator engineer for Canadian fighter jets. From there he joined NASA to work on their first manned space flight project: the Mercury Missions. Following that he worked on the Gemini program, and innumerable space programs over the years. His wide range of knowledge and expertise made the infinitude of space seem small by comparison.
It was Bruce who convinced NASA to partner with Canada for their space shuttle missions, and personally he supervised the development of the Canadarm and the Canadian astronaut program as a result. Upon his retirement from his position as the Director General of the Canadian Astronaut Program he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Ever industrious, he spent much of that retirement on the board of directors at the Okanagan Science Centre meticulously designing our space exhibits and our planetarium.
In his time with us we came to know him for his vision, his dedication, his knowledge, and his kindness. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with him. “My favourite Bruce Aikenhead story was when he was designing one of the pieces in our Space for Space exhibit,” said Jim Swingle, Executive Director of the Okanagan Science Centre. “No one was sure the exact measurement for a model we were constructing, so Bruce called NASA to get the answer.”