Skip to content

Southern Quebec's front-row seat for total solar eclipse draws crowds from afar

MONTREAL — People who descended on southern Quebec from afar for a view of Monday's total solar eclipse were rewarded with perfect viewing conditions for what many described as an emotional experience.
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 who descended on southern Quebec from afar for a view of Monday's total solar eclipse were rewarded with perfect viewing conditions for what many described as an emotional experience.

One of the province's most prized viewing points was Mont-Mégantic provincial park in Quebec's Eastern Townships, a dark-sky preserve that has been preparing for more than a year for Monday's cosmic spectacle. It had made 2,500 tickets available for visitors, and they were quickly snapped up.

Just before totality hit the park at around 3:30 p.m., organizers asked people to turn off their phones and look to the sky.

“I cried. I was shaking, it’s exceptional," said Mira Cadotte Lachance, a teacher, as she pointed to Venus and Jupiter, which shone in the sky. "I consider myself privileged to experience this moment."

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 and eclipses. He couldn't pass up a chance to see a total eclipse in person again, especially with the centre of the path of totality passing 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."

In downtown Montreal, people gathered on rooftops and loud cheers echoed through the streets as the sky darkened and temperatures dipped. Thousands gathered in the city's Old Port, filling a waterfront park under clear skies that offered an unobstructed view of the sun. 

As the light faded in the moments before totality, street lights came on and a string of lights at a restaurant across the street from the Old Port lit up. A ship in the river sounded its horn and the crowd cheered again. As the sun re-emerged, another cheer went up.

“It was truly magnificent, an awe-inspiring experience,” said Gabrielle Gauthier. “I loved it,” chimed in her daughter, Alyssa, 7.

Gauthier said the experience was one that would make people think more about the world.

“It’s a learning opportunity for children," she said. "It’s important for them to see things like this, because it goes a bit beyond what they can learn in books, or in school, to experience an event like this. I think it will stay with us."

As the partial eclipse progressed, tens of thousands gathered at Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau turned their gaze skyward, donning their eclipse glasses.

Some also fashioned their own unique safety lenses. Lewis Mackay transformed a wormhole-shaped novelty popcorn bucket made for the second "Dune" movie into an eclipse box. Others punched holes into pieces of paper to serve as makeshift pinhole cameras.

Michelle Crotteau, of Broadway, Va., was marking an eclipse-themed 60th birthday at the park. 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."

Len Seals, an optical engineer at NASA who worked on the James Webb Space Telescope, travelled to Montreal from Washington, D.C. to see the eclipse with his wife and two children. He couldn't pass up 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 as he waited for the eclipse in Old Montreal.

Ralph 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 it's getting dark and the birds stop," he said. 

Back in Mont Mégantic, about 200 kilometres east of Montreal, cheers, screams and smiles washed over the crowd.

“It was shining like a diamond, words cannot relate my emotions," said Chantale Lapointe, who received a ticket as a birthday present. "It’s the most beautiful gift my children could give me. I didn’t think I’d bawl."

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

— With files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal and Stéphane Blais in Mont-Mégantic, Que.

Morgan Lowrie and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks