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Despite gloomy forecasts, sky-watchers’ patience was rewarded when the phenomenon briefly became visible

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Thousands of people came to Niagara Falls in hopes of seeing April 8's total solar eclipse, whose path of totality skipped more populous parts of Southern Ontario.

They say a total solar eclipse triggers erratic behaviour in animals. Cows scurry to barns. Birds drop from the sky. Tortoises get an urge to breed. In Niagara Falls on Monday, humans of Southern Ontario exhibited their own eclipse idiosyncrasies. People got squirrelly, then panicky, then temporarily lost their minds. They screamed, they hugged, they danced. But mostly they squinted as they tried to locate any glimpse of the sun through gunmetal-grey skies.

For thousands of Niagara-bound eclipse-seekers, the journey began at Toronto’s Union Station. GO Transit, the regional transportation provider, had organized special express trains to the Falls for the eclipse. As the entrance to Platform 10 opened just before 9 a.m., people surged for the doors.

“And the madness begins,” said Mike Holliday, 51, struggling to keep on his feet amid the crush. A Toronto native, Mr. Holliday has been planning on seeing this eclipse since he read about it in a book 43 years ago. “It’s been rolling around in my head since I was a little kid,” he said. “I don’t even care about the clouds. It’ll be an experience.”

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The GO Train from Toronto's Union Station was packed with eclipse seekers checking their phones for weather updates.

Aboard the jam-packed train, passengers sat on stairs, on lawn chairs, on the soggy floor in front of the bathroom – all of them constantly refreshing weather apps on their phones, hoping sunlight might appear on otherwise gloomy forecasts. “It doesn’t matter,” Natsume Kaszkur, 26, said of the weather. “What will we see? Anything? Nothing? The mystery is what makes it exciting right now.”

Authorities were expecting as many as one million people to descend on the city, roughly 10 times the previous record, set in 2012 when Nik Wallenda walked a tightrope across the Falls. With such crowds, the city warned people to bring their own rations and to expect mass cellular-network outages. Ms. Kaszkur heeded the advice and showed off a massive bag of Funyuns, sushi rolls, popcorn and extra coffee.

At Niagara Falls station, people moved from overcrowded train cars to overcrowded buses for a short trip to the park next to the Falls. Many opted to walk, passing by Terry Maisonneuve’s front-lawn sausage-on-a-bun stand. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event – to see the eclipse and make some cash,” said the carpenter, who made 600 sausages by hand, selling them for $10 a pop.

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As many as 125,000 people gathered ahead of the eclipse at Horseshoe Falls, where dense clouds and light rain gave little hope there would be anything to see.

As noon approached, the clouds darkened. Light showers dampened the mood. “Not looking great, is it,” growled James Knight, a local busker who lives in a tent just outside the city. The one-million-visitor prediction appeared to be a huge overestimate, he said, looking at a dozen or so coins in his guitar bag.

In anticipation of the hordes, the region of Niagara declared a state of emergency. Officials said the highways would be clogged and hotels full. Mr. Knight said those ominous signs probably kept people away. “These crowds are like a midsummer day,” he said solemnly, before picking up his Telecaster and belting out a cover of Bad Moon Rising.

By 2:04 p.m., forlorn visitors were looking up in disappointment – except A.J. Jiang, 34, and Maria Guardado, 25, who were dancing in front of a Bluetooth speaker pumping out Taylor Swift’s Love Story. “We met on the GO train this morning,” Ms. Guardado said, hugging Mr. Jiang, who was wearing a rainbow faux-fur jacket. “And we may have had some edibles.”

What did they plan to play during totality? “Total Eclipse of the Heart, obviously,” Mr. Jiang said.

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Tom Nguyen and his family flew from Vietnam to see the eclipse.

Around 2:45 p.m., screams erupted. A sliver of eclipse was poking through the clouds. Then it was gone. Then it reappeared. More screams. The Niagara Symphony Orchestra played from the Star Wars soundtrack.

“Did you see it?” Jack Nguyen said to his son, Tom.


The Nguyens had flown from Vietnam just for the occasion. It had the makings of a bust.

On a patch of grass along the Niagara River Parkway, which was closed to car traffic, Howard Smith, 60, and his son, Owen, stood next to a pair of telescopes.

Owen had driven from Virginia, his dad from Cooperstown, N.Y., to share the celestial moment together. “We’ve now seen the eclipse for a total of 20 seconds,” Howard said in a solemn tone. “Meanwhile my wife is back home where they’re predicting 95 per cent clear skies.”

Owen Smith looks up in the darkness as the crowd could see a sliver of the eclipse through the clouds.

Then, it happened. At 3:16, the symphony stopped and all the daylight disappeared. The air cooled. Thousands of people hollered in unified bursts, like they were all on the same death-defying roller coaster. A man laughed uncontrollably. “It’s nighttime, mommy,” a boy said.

Somewhere above the searing red lights of Fallsview Casino, totality appeared. A greyish halo around a black circle – beautiful, terrifying, gone within seconds. The hollers died away so that only the roar of the Falls was audible.

As the light returned, the symphony struck up Here Comes the Sun.

Howard Smith was no longer solemn. “My goodness,” he beamed. “That was something. Worth the trip entirely.”

A few yards away, Mark Hamilton stood next to a Nikola Tesla statue. “Life-changing,” he said.

Mr. Hamilton hadn’t planned to be in Niagara Falls, but the lack of crowds worked in his favour. He found an $80-a-night hotel room online and dared the highways, which were surprisingly clear of traffic. “Something like that changes you,” he said. “You look up and realize we’re all just a blip in time.”

Eclipse highlights from Niagara Falls

Watch how the eclipse progressed over Niagara Falls as thousands of spectators kept their eyes on the skies.

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