Hometown son and space legend John S. MacDonald, shown in this 2013 UNBC photo, launched his passion for electronic systems while growing up in Prince Rupert fixing marine radios. MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates is the inventors of the iconic Canada Arm installed on the international space station. (Photo courtesy of University of Northern British Columbia)

Prince Rupert space legend passes away

John Spencer MacDonald, no star shone brighter

John Spencer MacDonald was a hometown son to the Prince Rupert community. To the international space community he was the co-founder of Canada’s best known space company, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, which launched the iconic Canada Arm. MacDonald passed away on Dec. 26, 2019.

MacDonald was born in P.R in 1936 and was an only child to his parents, Alice and Neil MacDonald. At an early age a passion for electronics was sparked with his ability to repair marine radios for local fishing boats. By the age of 16 he spent his summers travelling up and down the north coast completing maintenance on electronic systems.

“He had an aptitude for numbers, ” said his long time friend and Prince Rupert local, Ron Ciccone, “When he was manager of our junior boys basketball team, he once worked out that the score of a very close game was incorrect. From this our team then won the game. It was great.” The two friends attended Booth Memorial High School. “We used to study for exams at his house. The study sessions must have been good because we both passed,” said Ciccone about their high schools days.

The aerospace pioneer went on to reach for the stars with an education at University of British Columbia (UBC) graduating with honours in electrical engineering. MacDonald then attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he was awarded his Ph.D in electrical engineering in 1964. He returned to both universities during his career to montor and teach through two professorships.

A long and illustrious career is starred with so many accomplishments. MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates was founded in 1969, with friend Vern Dettwiler, who hailed from Terrace. MacDonald once referred to MDA as the “epicentre of the Canadian Space industry.” MDA was eventually sold with MacDonald stating it was difficult to sell, but necessary for the progression of space aeronautics. He believed the company would be better able to attract defence contracts that were not available in Canada.

Even with accolades such as, the Order of Canada, British Columbia Technology Industry Association Impact Award (BCTIA) for person of the year 2008, the first ever Air Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) life time achievement award for 2018 and co-founding Day 4 Energy, a solar powered technology company, he remained true to his roots and continued to orbit around B.C.

Ciccone said that MacDonald would over the years, and through his success, still meet with old classmates for luncheons. “He always stayed the same. He was a personable and genuine, nice guy.”

MacDonald passed away at the age of 83 and is survived by his wife of 60 years, Alfredette, his two sons and three grandchildren.


K-J Millar | Journalist
Send K-J email
Like the The Northern View on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Prince Rupert doctor amends social media statement on COVID-19

College of Physicians said information must not be disclosed

Volunteer closures devastating to bottom line

P.R. fishing charters banding together to deter out of province tourists amidst COVID-19

UPDATE: First presumptive case of COVID-19 in Prince Rupert

Doctor says it was a visitor, Northern Health won’t confirm

Digital Daffodils

April is Canadian Cancer Society’s cancer awareness month

North District RCMP see massive spike in domestic calls

Connection to COVID-19 pandemic likely for reduced call volume, increased severity

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

COVID-19 world update: 6.6 million U.S. jobless claims; alcohol sales banned in Bangkok

Comprehensive digest of coronavirus news items from around the world

B.C. sorting medical equipment sales, donation offers for COVID-19

Supply hub has call out for masks, gowns, coronavirus swabs

B.C. records five more deaths due to COVID-19, 45 new cases

A total of 838 people have recovered from the virus

Major crimes investigating sudden death of North Okanagan child

The 8 year old was flown to Kelowna General Hospital and died hours later

Easter Bunny added to B.C.’s list of essential workers

Premier John Horgan authorizes bunny to spread “eggs-ellent cheer” throughout province

Travellers returning to B.C. must have self-isolation plan or face quarantine: Horgan

Premier John Horgan says forms must be filled out by travellers

More than 400 animals have been adopted amid pandemic: B.C. SPCA

People are taking this time of social distancing to find a loyal companion through the animal welfare group

Most Read