Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Tourists on the American side of Niagara Falls take photos in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on March 29. Ontario's Niagara Region has declared a state of emergency as it readies to welcome up to a million visitors for the solar eclipse in early April.Carlos Osorio/The Canadian Press

Officials in the Niagara Region say they’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst after taking the unprecedented step of proactively declaring a state of emergency ahead of the solar eclipse on April 8, which officials think could bring up to a million people to the Southern Ontario tourism hub.

Anticipating traffic jams and possible fuel shortages and telecommunication outages, Jim Bradley, the chair of the regional government, invoked the emergency measure on Friday, more than a week before the event.

“When you have a million people coming to an area, something can happen,” Mr. Bradley said in an interview. “And so out of an abundance of caution, we want to make sure we have that declaration and the available staff and resources to be able to deal with any eventuality.”

Declarations of emergency under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act are usually reserved for natural disasters, such as floods, fires and severe snowstorms. They give regional governments and municipalities access to additional provincial resources and funds, and allow them to bring in extra staff.

Officials expect hundreds of thousands of visitors to flock to the region to catch a glimpse of the rare celestial event. Niagara Falls and the surrounding communities are squarely in the path of the eclipse, and will experience around 3½ minutes of total eclipse on the afternoon of April 8.

Is your heart prepared for the total eclipse?

Globe Climate: How to get ready for the total solar eclipse on April 8

Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, said the most visitors the city has seen in a single day is around 150,000, when American acrobat Nik Wallenda tight-rope walked across the waterfall in 2012.

“This will be eight to nine times that number, especially depending on the weather,” Mr. Diodati said.

“For traffic, the volume will be enormous,” he added. “It will be very difficult to get a fire truck or an ambulance or a police car. So we’re going to try to proactively position them in strategic locations that are accessible. We’ll have medical stations, porta-potties. We’re trying to think of everything.”

The city is also bringing in mobile cellphone towers to handle the increased demand for bandwidth.

The regional government, which includes Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Welland and a number of smaller cities, has asked the province’s helicopter ambulance service to be on alert. Some public facilities will be closed on the day and staff may be reassigned to deal with traffic, parking and other issues, Mr. Bradley said.

The Go Transit rail system will be running additional trains to and from Toronto, to meet increased demand and reduce traffic congestion on the Queen Elizabeth Way highway, which runs south from the GTA.

From eclipse glasses to pinhole projection, Globe science reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains what parents need to know to enjoy the stellar event with their kids. The eclipse is April 8 and will be visible from a large swath of eastern Canada.

The Globe and Mail

Nirupama Agrawal, a professor of Disaster and Emergency Management at York University, said she has never seen a pre-emptive declaration of emergency before. But she said that the unique circumstance justifies taking this step.

“If this event was happening in Toronto, it has resources available to it,” Prof. Agrawal said. “Niagara will have to ask Toronto to help, so why not ask in advance?”

She said that emergency-response professionals are increasingly emphasizing risk management and prevention, in an environment where policing, ambulance and fire services are stretched thin.

In this context, pre-emptive declarations of emergency may become more common, she said, although there are risks if these proliferate without specific guidelines and protocols.

“They have to be done in good faith. It cannot be a municipality declaring an emergency, and it turns out it was only to access extra resources,” she said.

While Niagara’s declaration of emergency has highlighted risks ahead of April 8, Mr. Diodati said the event is also a tremendous opportunity for the tourism region, which is still recovering from the pandemic.

“It’s getting us the exposure we could never afford to pay for. And we’re grateful for it. I mean, the world brought us COVID, and now the universe brings us a total solar eclipse.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe