Why the Hamilton-Niagara area is the place to be in Ontario for the total solar eclipse

Robert Cockcroft’s advice for people in Hamilton on April 8? Don’t leave town — and expect some guests.

“The Hamilton-Niagara area is the best place to see the eclipse because that’s where we get to see a total solar eclipse,” said the director of McMaster University’s William J. McCallion Planetarium. 

That day, people across North America will see the moon pass between the sun and the Earth. In some places, it will partially block out the sun. But in others — including Hamilton, Burlington, Six Nations and the Niagara Region, all in Ontario — the moon will fully block the star’s light. 

Only a few other cities in the province — including Kingston, Belleville and Cornwall — will have a similar view.

In Hamilton, the sun will be completely hidden for about two minutes starting at 3:18 p.m. ET, according to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). However, it will be at least partially covered from about 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

That’s because this region is in what’s called the path of totality, Cockcroft said — a 100- to 115-kilometre arc across the globe from which things will line up just right. The CSA website states other cities in the path include Montreal and Fredericton.

People will flock to Hamilton Niagara to view the eclipse. Here’s why

Robert Cockcroft, the director of McMaster University’s William J. McCallion Planetarium, shares why the Hamilton-Niagara region will be the best in Ontario from which to view the April 8 eclipse. He also explains why this eclipse will be a big deal, and how to view it safely.

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Hamilton area will go dark during the eclipse

“There are four to seven solar or lunar eclipses per year, but only those people along the path of an eclipse are able to see it,” says the CSA.

If you’re outside the path of the coming solar eclipse, “the light will dim noticeably and it will get a bit cooler, but you won’t get to see the culmination of the spectacle that is the total solar eclipse, where the sky goes dark enough to see planets and stars in the sky,” Cockcroft said.

What’s likely to happen is that people from outside the region will come in to view the eclipse, he said. Based on his prior eclipse experience travelling to see an eclipse in 2017, Cockcroft predicts “the roads are going to be a nightmare.” 

But, he added, all people in Hamilton need to do is go outside and look up — with the proper eclipse glasses of course. 

A map of eastern Canada showing which areas should see what during a solar exclipse.
Map of the path of totality in Canada for the April 8, 2024, solar eclipse. (Canadian Space Agency)

There will be a range of events in the area during the eclipse, including one McMaster University is planning, Cockfroft said. And if it’s a cloudy day, livestreaming the eclipse will be possible too. 

He said it’s a great educational opportunity for children, many of whom won’t have school that day — just take some precautions. 

Looking at sun before, after totality can hurt eyes 

The sun is too bright to view directly, Cockcroft said. But McMaster University has teamed up with the Hamilton public library to offer residents free eclipse glasses that use the international ISO 12312-2 standard.

With those on, Cockcroft demonstrated outside the planetarium, you can gaze at the star and study features such as sun spots

The CSA says glasses made to that standard filter out enough light to make viewing the sun possible, and notes that eye protection is needed before and after the totality.

The only time one can look at the sun without eye protection is during the totality, Cockcroft said.

He said another option for eclipse viewers is to make an eclipse projector — a DIY tool that will allow you to view a projection of the eclipse without special eyewear. 

A portrait of a person in a scarf stands in a yard outside.
Cockcroft says eclipses are something entire communities can enjoy together. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

Next total solar eclipse visible from Hamilton is 2144

“To have a total solar eclipse come to you is really a once-in-a-lifetime effect event,” Cockcroft said. “We haven’t had one of these since 1925 and the next one will be 2144.”

But other than the rarity, why do people care so much about eclipses?

For one, it’s a strange experience to have the sky go dark midday, Cockroft said.

“You’ll notice something weird, even if you didn’t know it was coming.”

There also may be something more philosophical at play. 

“During a total solar eclipse, for all our technology that we have, we still are at the mercy of things that are going on in the heavens,” Cockroft said.

“And it’s a nice way just to completely break off from whatever you happen to be doing on that day. Everyone in the community gets to experience this awesome event in the sky all at the same time.”

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