Thousands flock to McGill to take in solar eclipse

Perfect weather and festive atmosphere add to the grandeur of once-in-a-lifetime celestial show
It is estimated that 10,000 flocked to McGill’s downtown campus to take in the solar eclipse

Yesterday, McGill played host to thousands of people for the spectacular solar eclipse with a series of public events at the downtown campus, the Gault Nature Reserve, and on the West Island (with Macdonald Campus collaborating with John Abbott College).

Near perfect weather conditions – especially following last week’s snowfall – drew throngs of Montrealers outside to take part in what will be for many, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The excitement was palpable at all three venues, peaking when totality hit at approximately 3:25 p.m. (depending on where you were). As darkness descended upon the city, some people cheered, others oohed and aahed, while others were perfectly silent, staring in awe at the incredible celestial show.

“With all the buildup in the news leading up to this, I thought it might be a bit of a letdown,” said one participant at the John Abbott/Macdonald Campus viewing party. “But it was absolutely spectacular.”

Downtown campus draws Montrealers of all ages

“I am so excited for today” said Victoria Kaspi, PhD, director of the Trottier Space Institute (TSI) and professor of physics, when she appeared on CBC’s Radio Noon earlier in the day. “These are truly exceptional events.”

Kaspi watched the eclipse on downtown campus as part of TSI’s Eclipse Fair and Viewing Party, alongside a formidable crowd that Security Services estimated to be above 10,000 people. The event was jointly organized by TSI and the Department of Physics and run by over 100 student and postdoc volunteers who Kaspi said “deserve all the credit.”

She was just one of dozens of TSI volunteers who were on hand to answer questions, distribute free glasses, and administer access to solar telescopes.

Among the attendees was a family of a five – including six-year-old identical twins – who’d driven up from Massachusetts to experience totality. “We are space nuts,” said mom. “We’ve planning this for a year, and McGill was near our hotel.”

TSI set up multiple tents on lower campus to hand out 15,000 free glasses. While some ran out by 2 p.m., others were still handing them out when the moon began to block view of the sun.

Cheers from the crowd rang out throughout the eclipse, which darkened the skies and lit up the surrounding buildings.

TSI’s event was years in the making and required months of planning. Carolina Cruz-Vinaccia, TSI Program Administrator and one of the event’s organizers, was pleased with the results.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has said, ‘Oh, it was great, it was an awesome experience.’ We’d told people about it for so long, but it was still wild. I think everybody was happy, the vibe was joyful. It was nice to watch it in a big crowd.”

Festive feel on the West Island

In the West Island, several thousand people flocked to John Abbott College for the event that was co-organized with Macdonald Campus. Planned activities included informational kiosks, telescope stations, and booths where people could make their own pinhole viewers.

The atmosphere was festive, with people of all ages gathering on the lawn in front of John Abbott. As music played on loudspeakers, people set up their lawn chairs, laughed with neighbours, and played frisbee, football, soccer, and spike ball. The countdown to the eclipse, along with safety reminders, was broadcast throughout the day.

As the eclipse progressed, temperatures dropped, streetlights flickered on, and the sky above Lac St Louis glowed with a beautiful sunset palette.

“I am so grateful to the John Abbott College Space Club and Professor Karim Jaffer for having invited the McGill Macdonald Campus and Let’s Talk Science at McGill University to be part of this event,” said Ingrid Chiraz, Project Administrator, Office of Student Academic Services. “We were able to bring so many different people together, people who might not have been able to watch and experience the total solar eclipse by themselves. This event was wonderful reminder of how science is able to connect us and how we should take time out of our busy lives to experience it.

“The most memorable moment was when we hit 90 per cent totality. All the booths paused their activities and the music stopped playing,” said Chiraz. “All you could hear was faint murmurs and the voice of Alessia Laranjo [one of the lead execs from the John Abbott College Space Club] as she announced the progression to totality. The temperature dropped quickly, and it got dark all around us. Everyone on campus was starring up at the sky in anticipation. Once Alessia announced that we had reached totality, everyone took off their glasses and shouted in celebration. Nothing else seemed to matter at that moment. All people did was make the most of those precious 75 seconds. It was a privilege to be a part of such a memorable moment in our lifetime.”

A distinctly Gault perspective

At the Gault Nature Reserve of McGill University, some 1,200 people took part in the unique viewing opportunity. After receiving information and free glasses at the Alice Johannsen Welcome Centre, visitors were able to hike to prime viewing spots at the summit overlooking the entire region.

Gault also provided visitors with the opportunity to witness how wildlife reacted to the eclipse.

“Ducks on Lake Hertel began vocalizing when darkness fell, the frogs in the pond in front of the Welcome Centre fell silent, and birds that are usually silent in the afternoon began to sing when the sun returned,” said said Frédérique Truchon, Communications Associate at Gault.

See the eclipse photo gallery below



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Brid Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh
1 month ago

A superb job. A big thank you to all those who contributed making our day so memorable.

Doug Wereley
1 month ago

Well done. Three Cheers to McGill and their Scientists.


Jean-Paul Acco
1 month ago

Great photos of an unforgettable moment