Skip to content

Foothills remembers Apollo 11

Millarville: Rothney Observatory celebrates the Eagle landing and Neil Armstrong's famous walk

Individuals of a certain generation will always remember where they were 50 years ago today as the world watched man land and walk on the moon.

Hundreds of people attended the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory near Millarville for Apollo 11: A Celebration 50 Years in the Making on July 20, which included a talk from CBC "Starman" Don Hladiuk and space historian Joel Powell.

Here are memories shared by Foothills area residents who attended the Rothney celebration as they recall July 20, 1969 when man walked on the moon for the first time.

Fuelling one’s passion

An educator at the University of Calgary found a career path as he watched Apollo 11 astronauts Mike Collins, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Neil Armstrong go to the moon and back.

“I was born in 1961 so I was in the sweet spot for watching the Apollo missions,” said Dr. Phil Langill, who heads the Rothney observatory.

Langill watched the landing and walk in Calgary — 50 years later he is working at the Stampede City’s university’s leading facility for watching the sky. 

“It was all very exciting, very new, very awe-inspiring and all very incredible,” he said.

He recalls watching another mission, likely the splash down of Apollo 13 less than a year later, in a school gymnasium.

Apollo 11 was life-changing for Langill.

“The whole idea of space was particularly pertinent to me,” he said. “It shaped my future in studying astronomy, astrophysics and spacey stuff.

“It fundamentally encouraged me to pursue the career path I am currently following… I’m a physics, nerdy math guy. I live vicariously by watching all the launches, walks and that kind of stuff.”

A picture in time

A Foothills County councillor knows all about recording history for the future — her parents taught her well 50 years ago.

“We have a photo of our TV so our family could remember the day,” said Coun. Suzanne Oel, who would have been seven at the time. “My mom and dad got us all together to make sure we all watched it together.

“It was so big in terms of human-kind. It was the talk of everybody, and everyone was watching.

“My family took a photo from the TV which had the time and the actual date.”

Five decades later, she is still enthralled with Apollo 11.

“There are some amazing programs now that kind of explain the science of it,” Oel said. “For me this was has been a trip going down memory lane.

“I marvel at what they were able to achieve with the technology of the day.”

She considers it the most world-wide unifying moment in her lifetime.

Oel is proud to have Rothney in her division within Foothills County.

“There are so many people who like to come to Rothney events,” she said. “Today brought out the scientists at heart.”

A big news story

A former Calgary TV news anchor was covering the landing where no one could see it —  for radio.

“We had Harvey Kirk anchoring from Houston and then we would link to CBS for Walter Cronkite’s coverage and I was doing radio updates (at CFCF in Montreal),” said Darrel Janz, a former CFCN news anchor, who used to reside in High River.

“And we would start every update with the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Janz worked in Altona, Manitoba just a few years prior to 1969.

Suddenly he was covering the world’s biggest story in then-Canada’s biggest city.

“It was thrill after thrill after thrill,” Janz said. “I got to talk to thousands of people and sharing what was going on. In downtown Montreal they were crowded around store TV sets. All the people coming out of the bars and clubs, the night scene was so lively, to watch TV at Eaton’s and the Bay.

“There was no French or English, it was just humans watching.”

It was a big year in Montreal. Just three months earlier the Expos played their first home baseball game —  a day Janz learned about the dangers of travelling in an aircraft.

“We were up covering traffic for that historical game on April 14 and we crashed our chopper in the St. Lawrence River,” the 77-year-old Janz said. “The pilot and I both survived but the chopper was a write off.”


Bruce Campbell

About the Author: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the editor for and the Western Wheel newspaper. He is a graduate of Mount Royal College journalism program, 1991. For story tips contact
Read more