The Pinawa Heritage Sundial

Pinawa Heritage Sundial Conceptual Design

The Project

If you want to build a sundial there are couple of very important pieces of information required. One of these is that you have to know where you are. Unfortunately, "Pinawa" just doesn't happen to be close enough. You must establish the latitude and longitude of the location of the sundial as accurately as possible. The second piece of information required is: "Which way is north?". Here again, pulling out the compass won't give you the entire answer. A compass will tell the way to magnetic north but you need to know the direction to true north.

Fortunately, we have a volunteer who could help get all the answers we need: Barrie Burnett. Barrie's hobby is surveying and he he spends a great deal of time doing what he loves to do. Barrie has been surveying the town for over 20 years. To do this he has invested a lot in purchasing equipment for his hobby and because Barrie normally surveys alone, he has come up with some ingenious devices to help him in the field.

Barrie Burnett with some of his equipment. This is Barrie with some of the equipment we used during the project.


With the aid of the many control points Barrie has established throughout town, he was able to determine the latitude and longitude of the sundial's position. This information is required to perform the calculations for the hour angles of the sundial. The latitude also determines the slope of the gnomon.

So, where are we? This is the location of the sundial.

Latitude: 5008'48" North
Longitude: 9552'31" West

North American Datum — 1983

Barrie also established the direction of true north. We laid out a north-south line on the parking lot adjacent to the sundial with the use of surveying instruments and then confirmed it using a cool tool Barrie made.

Tool used to confirm true north. Setup for establishing true north.
The photos above show how we were able to confirm the north- south line. Barrie's cool tool was set on a very tall tripod directly over the control point at the south end of the lot. We used the clock display on an HP41CX programmable calculator. The clock was synchronized with an NRC time signal over the telephone. This signal is provided at 10 second intervals. We determined the precise clock time for solar noon on the day of the test. We then positioned a piece of paper on the ground at the point where the tool would cast a beam of light the width of the slot. Positioning ourselves, we waited for high noon.

OOPS! Cloud at 12 o'clock.

The next day we set up we were successful. At precisely noon Barrie marked one edge of the light beam and I marked the other. It's surprising how quickly the light beam was moving. After bisecting the distance between the two marks, Barrie found that the surveyed line matched perfectly with the north-south line determined with the cool tool. Go figure!

Barrie's surveying skills did not end here. His involvement was critical to the success of this project. He spent numerous hours at the site surveying as well as many hours in his cartography studio preparing the data necessary for the field work.

Here's Barrie! Here's Barrie again!
Rain or shine, you could always depend on Barrie!

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