Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

People watch the solar eclipse from the observation deck of The Empire State Building in New York City on Aug. 21, 2017.Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Hustlers sell paper glasses like stolen Rolexes on the streets of Montreal. A million people prepare to descend on Niagara Falls while the region declares a state of emergency. Amateur astronomers obsessively eye the forecast.

Call them signs of the apoc-eclipse. From Southern Ontario to the eastern tip of Newfoundland, people are preparing for the first total solar eclipse visible from Canada, beyond Nunavut, since 1979. The buildup has been frenzied and disorganized at times, but also bubbly with excitement. Stargazers compare it to some combination of the Super Bowl, Christmas Eve and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals – in overtime.

On Monday, the cosmic will be coming to the doorsteps of millions of Canadians in what’s known as the path of totality, the band stretching from Bonavista, N.L., to Leamington, Ont., where the moon will fully block out the sun for anywhere from a minute to nearly four, plunging the day into dark.

The custodians of uninhabited Eclipse Island in Newfoundland rebuilt a historic beacon for the occasion and will gather down at the government wharf in the town of Burgeo – a short distance from the aptly named islet – to soak up the rare celestial show.

The famed British Captain James Cook observed an eclipse there in 1766, allowing for the establishment of the location’s longitude, an important navigational milestone in the region. There may be no scientific breakthroughs this time around, but town clerk and manager Michael Ward says anticipation is building in the area – so much so that he’s had to order another 250 eclipse glasses from Walmart.

“We’re going great guns,” Mr. Ward exclaimed.

Is your heart prepared for the total eclipse?

What our souls can see in an eclipse’s darkness

The eclipse would be an excellent time for a geeky marriage proposal, quipped Svetlana Barkanova, professor of physics at Memorial University. She saw her first full eclipse in South Carolina in 2017 and noticed that just as the moon moves away from the face of the sun, “there is a flash of light that looks like a diamond ring in the sky.”

“If you do it once, you want to do it again and again and again,” said Dr. Barkanova, who will be giving a talk about the eclipse at the public library in Port-aux-Basques, N.L., on Monday as part of an event that will include live music and face-painting for kids. “It’s a total experience. Especially if you watch in a group, there is a sense of common awe.”

Quebec schools have received mixed messages about the eclipse from the government, which sent a directive suggesting they remain open but keep students indoors during the eclipse for safety reasons. (Looking directly at the sun can damage eyesight.) Many school service centres and school boards have opted to simply stay closed on April 8 instead, which local scientists have decried as a missed opportunity to teach kids about the dazzling phenomenon.

Eclipse fever has still taken hold in the province, where a densely populated swathe of territory will experience the total eclipse, notably in the Eastern Townships and the southern part of the Montreal region, the largest city in Canada to fall within the path of totality. Montreal libraries were stocked with 57,000 pairs of free eclipse glasses in late March, but within a few days most branches were reportedly fresh out.

How to watch a total solar eclipse

Where to see all the total solar eclipses for the rest of this decade

Marie-Georges Bélanger, customer service manager for the Mont-Mégantic provincial park – home to a nationally prominent astronomical observatory – says that she and her fellow eclipse obsessives are starting to feel a little less lonely. She has been preparing for the event for three years (and will play host to 2,500 people at the park’s ASTROLab museum on the day-of) but she can finally feel the “madness starting to spread.”

The madness may crest in Niagara Falls, a tourist magnet in ordinary circumstances, where local officials believe as many as a million visitors could descend to watch two natural wonders converge. The regional authority has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of telecoms outages, traffic gridlock and a surge of medical crises. All of the region’s 52 ambulances will be active and staffed, said chief administrative officer Ron Tripp.

Other worries cloud the thoughts of those who have been looking forward to the eclipse for years. What if literal clouds obscure the spectacle? That has led Sara Arsenault of the Montreal Science Centre Foundation to scan the forecast “obsessively,” she said. (Right now it looks sunny in Montreal and Sherbrooke; a mix of sun and cloud in Gander, N.L.; and a mix of sun and cloud for Niagara Falls.)

The centre is staging an extravaganza on Monday, complete with 20,000 pairs of glasses and Cirque du Soleil acrobats. The staff are “feverish” with excitement, said Ms. Arsenault. But in the atmosphere of anticipation and anxiety that has defined the lead-up to the historic moment, another eclipse-dark thought insinuates itself into her mind: how sad she will feel when it’s all over.

Follow related authors and topics

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

Interact with The Globe