Thousands flock to John Abbott to take in solar eclipse

Published: 10 April 2024

On Monday, 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.”

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.”

“If I had to summarize the eclipse in one word, it would be otherwordly,” said Florent Thibault, a 3rd year BSc Honours Physics student from Concordia University who came out to John Abbott to take part in the festivities. “The moments of totality were especially impressive, it looked like an artist representation of a cosmic phenomenon (like the ones we see in documentaries for example).” 

The event was organized by the John Abbott College (JAC) Space Club and the John Abbott Physics Department in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Montreal Centre and the Macdonald Campus Office of Student Academic Services.

“It was truly an incredible afternoon. Being able to experience totality surrounded by the entire community at JAC really was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity I don’t think I could ever forget. Emilia, Alessia, and I [execs from the John Abbott Space Club] began planning for this event over a year ago, so to finally reach that moment, hearing the cheers leading up to totality and the silence once it began, gave me literal chills,” said Eveline M. Liu, John Abbott College Space Club executive.

Other partners include MDA Space, the Planétarium, the Canadian Space Agency, the Trottier Space Institute at McGill, and Let's Talk Science at McGill University.

“The team of volunteers from Let's Talk Science at McGill University was so excited to be included in this historic event. It was a fantastic experience for all, and it was a great privilege to work with our youngest community members, the next generation of scientists, artists, and most importantly empathetic humans,” said attendee Maxana Weiss, PhD candidate in rehabilitation science and lead coordinator for Let's Talk Science at McGill.

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