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If you live in Ottawa and want to see a total eclipse, head for the border | CBC News

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If you want the full experience of a total solar eclipse on April 8, you’ll have to leave Ottawa and head south.

The Ottawa-Gatineau area will experience a near-total eclipse — the moon is expected to cover about 99 per cent of the sun — but won’t be shrouded in complete darkness like other areas. 

“The sun is a very, very bright star, so even one per cent of the light is too much light. You’re not going to see things like the solar corona, which is only visible when you completely block out the sun,” said Nikhil Arora, eclipse outreach coordinator at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Luckily, you don’t have to travel far to reach the “path of totality,” a swath of North America that will experience full coverage of the sun.

Kingston and nearby Gananoque are hosting eclipse events in public parks.

Some local provincial parks and historic sites are also preparing for eclipse watchers and Queen’s will provide some experts to answer questions at several locations.

Arora said Kingston’s planning is trying to learn from the 2017 American eclipse, the most photographed to date.

“The biggest thing we need to think about is traffic jams and gridlock. That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” he said. “Kingston Transit is free on that day to be able to reach viewing locations.”

Nikhil Arora is an astronomer and eclipse outreach coordinator for Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. (Queen’s University)

If the water is more your style, cruise season has started early in the Thousand Islands area to cater to eclipse watchers.

Gananoque Tourism coordinator Jennifer Baril said the eclipse has kicked off the local tourism season more than a month early.

Ottawa Morning11:33Where to have the best view of the solar eclipse in eastern Ontario

Matthew Kupfer runs through your options in the path of totality.

Plan to change plans

Backup plans are essential if you’re “very keen” on getting the total experience, according to eclipse chaser David Makepeace.  

“The centre line along the path of totality is where the eclipse lasts the longest,” he said.

“If you just come inside the northern limit, you might see a minute or minute and a half of [total] eclipse, but if you’d spent that extra hour to drive deeper … you could end up with three and a half minutes.”

A man stands with his arms outstretched and appears to be shouting with joy.
David Makepeace reacts after witnessing a total solar eclipse in Arizona in 2012. (Liz Malicki)

Makepeace, who has been chasing and capturing eclipses for 30 years, is planning to travel to Mexico to all but guarantee a clear sky. He recommends watching the weather radar ahead of April 8.

“If you’re in the Ottawa area, you may find that it’s going to be cloudy here but it’s going to be fine in Niagara Falls, then drive to Niagara Falls. I know it’s a long way … but this is the nature of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

“If you’re willing to cross the border into the States, it’s your shortest drive to the longest amount of totality.”

N.Y. hotels booked up

Eclipse watchers from around the world have already noticed how much of the path of totality falls along across Upstate New York.

“The hotel rooms on the U.S. side filled up more than a year ago and the short-term rentals have continued to book and book and book as the weeks have gone on,” said Corey Fram, director of tourism at the Thousand Islands International Tourism Council. 

“So we know visitors are coming.”

The small city of Watertown 200 kilometres south of Ottawa is expecting its population to multiply by as many as eight times during the eclipse.

Mayor Sarah Compo Pierce has been involved in planning for the last two years.

“We’re expecting an extreme influx of visitors. The highest estimate we’ve seen so far is 174,000 people, which would be the largest even in anybody’s memory to happen in the city,” Compo Pierce said.

A mayor poses in a park. There's patchy snow on the ground.
Sarah Compo Pierce, mayor of Watertown, N.Y., says the small city has been preparing for nearly two years and expects thousands of visitors in Thompson Park to watch the total solar eclipse. (Ryan Garland/CBC)

The city is closing most of its non-essential operations and redirecting staff to manage traffic and its centrepiece “Total Eclipse of the Park” event in Thompson Park.

The free event has had people register for tickets from as far away as Italy and South America, Compo Pierce said. 

Restaurants and retailers are encouraged to be ready for visitors on April 8, while other businesses such as furniture stores are being asked to reschedule deliveries. 

If big crowds aren’t your scene, remember the eclipse is available for free wherever you can safely stop and don your eclipse goggles. Some places prefer you don’t park on the side of the road and recommend parking lots.

“As long as you can see the sun from your location inside the path of totality, then you’re in the right place to see the eclipse,” Makepeace said. 

A map of the Great Lakes area with a red band over the Canada-U.S. border. A blue line cuts through the red band.
The path of totality through eastern Ontario, southern Quebec and Upstate New York. The blue line highlights the centre of the path where the eclipse will last up to of three and a half minutes. (eclipse2024.org)

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