The beginnings of the CFHT

After we had struck out with the US agencies, the French began to look for another partner and shortly found one in the Canadians, whose own plans for a large telescope (the Queen Elizabeth II Telescope) had earlier foundered. A deal between the two countries was struck by early 1973, and shortly after they sent representatives to Honolulu to discuss entering into an agreement with the State and University. Some highly-placed people from CNRS and CNRC (the French and the Canadian national research councils, respectively) assembled in Harlan Cleveland’s office to hammer out a framework for implementing the project. Harlan was selected to preside, and with consummate skill guided the group through discussion of a wide number of possible arrangements. After two days we reached a draft outline for a tripartite agreement to form the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation. It was a tribute to Cleveland’s astuteness in international negotiations (as well as to the farsightedness of the other principals) that the framework that was developed in those two days should have survived intact into the final version.

My own participation in the negotiations focused on issues of special concern to the Institute – the observing time to be allocated to us, our share of the operating costs, the space to be made available to the Corporation at Hale Pohaku and in the new Institute building in Manoa. I also saw an opportunity for hastening the completion of the road and power line, which were languishing and which, with the land for the telescope, was to be Hawaii’s primary contribution to the joint venture. It was at this meeting that one of the French members pointed out that the new facility should be named the CFH Telescope rather than the CFH Observatory since in his view there was only one Observatory (the Mauna Kea Observatory).

This visit marked the entry of Mauna Kea into the big leagues of astronomy and was a major step in the growth of the Institute for Astronomy. The initiative represented by the CFHT venture was naturally a very big thing within the State and received a lot of publicity. It was, as it remains, a most satisfying event for me personally even though long negotiations were ahead before a final Tri-Partite Agreement was completed and the CFHT Corporation formally began its life with a signature ceremony held at the Haute Provence Observatory.