June 23rd, 2024

Parts of southern Quebec have front-row seat for total solar eclipse

By Morgan Lowrie and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press on April 8, 2024.

Hundreds of people walk to the ASTROlab, in Lac-Megantic, Que., Monday, April 8, 2024. Thousands of spectators are expected to gather at the ASTROlab at the summit of Mont Megantic to witness the total solar eclipse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL – People gathered across southern Quebec Monday to get a rare view of a total solar eclipse.

Parts of the province will have a front-row seat for the phenomenon, which occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, blocking out sunlight for a brief period.

The astronomical observatory in Mont-Mégantic provincial park has been preparing for more than a year for Monday’s cosmic spectacle, and the 2,500 tickets available for the exclusive event were quickly snapped up.

Ticket holders will be able to view the total eclipse at the ASTROlab, located at the foot of Mont Mégantic, using binoculars or telescopes equipped with special filters.

Benoît Reeves, a scientific communicator and son of late Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves, travelled from Paris to Quebec just to see the eclipse.

He organizes astronomy trips in France around phenomena such as comets, eclipses or sky observation. The Montreal-born Reeves said the conditions are perfect and the centre of the path of totality passes almost right over Mont-Mégantic.

“Because I have already witnessed eclipses and it was so moving, such a powerful feeling that, well, I have to go back,” Reeves said. “It’s like an addiction.”

The sky above the region about 200 kilometres east of Montreal was forecast to be clear, as the path of totality travels over Mont Mégantic between 3:28 p.m. and 3:32 p.m.

In Montreal, viewing events are taking place at the Old Port, Université de Montréal’s CEPSUM stadium, on the campus of McGill University and at Parc Jean-Drapeau, where thousands gathered ahead of the event.

Michelle Crotteau, of Broadway, Va., was marking an eclipse-themed 60th birthday at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Crotteau said she witnessed a total eclipse in 2017 in Tennessee and wanted to be in Montreal to experience it once again.

“I think it’s very spiritual for me, and it just makes me feel part of the universe in a very special way,” Crotteau said, sporting a T-shirt that read “totality my 60th birthday.”

Roger and Sandra Kirkham, from the British island of Jersey, off the French coast, were in Montreal celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and admitted they hadn’t known about the eclipse until recently.

“We saw a little about it in Europe but it wasn’t quite like it is over here, so it was a nice surprise,” Sandra Kirkham said. The couple had seen a solar eclipse in Great Britain in 1999 – coincidentally the year the couple married.

Outside the Montreal Science Centre, in the city’s Old Port, hundreds of people waited in a line stretching two city blocks ahead of a handout of free eclipse glasses. As people waited, one man walked by with a sign advertising glasses for sale for $10

Ralph Bschor, who was near the front of the line, said he’d been waiting since around 11 a.m.

Bschor, who witnessed a total eclipse in 2003, travelled from Germany to Montreal for the chance to see one again. “The moment is fantastic, when its getting dark and the birds stop,” Bschor said.

Nearby, Len Seals, an optical engineer at NASA, already had his eclipse glasses. For Seals, who worked on the James Webb Space Telescope, travelling to Montreal to see the eclipse was a chance to see the natural phenomenon as it happens, in person.

“I’m used to looking at things through a computer screen and seeing images, but not with my own eyes, that’s always a different experience,” said Seals who travelled from Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children.

The telescopes he works on allow researchers to see objects billions of light-years away.

“When you’re looking at space, you look back through time,” Seals said, while the eclipse is a chance to see something as it happens.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2024.

– With files from Stéphane Blais in Mont-Mégantic, Que.

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