Canadians heading to U.S. for best views of total solar eclipse on Monday

Joe Carr’s most memorable total solar eclipse had ties to former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

He stayed in a tent in the Sahara Desert supplied by Gadhafi to house dedicated eclipse chasers.

“That was a very interesting introduction to eclipse viewing,” said Carr, who is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Victoria.

“We drove for a whole day down to the middle of the Sahara Desert and Gadhafi and his guys built three little cities down there in the middle of the desert, tent cities, 5,000 people each, complete with water and cellphone reception.”

Carr said it was March 2006, and while he didn’t catch a glimpse of the now deceased dictator, he did see the glorious moment in the skies of a total eclipse of the sun that he’ll never forget.

He is one of tens-of-thousands of dedicated followers of total eclipses, where the moon shrouds the sun, creating momentary midday darkness.

In Victoria, the eclipse on Monday will block out 90 per cent of the sun, the largest percentage anywhere in Canada.

But that isn’t good enough for Carr, who will be travelling to Salem, Ore., to view his fourth total solar eclipse. He said he is joining about 20 enthusiasts from Victoria who are heading for eastern and central Oregon and parts of Idaho to view the event, where the darkness will last about two minutes.

The total eclipse, or the so-called path of totality, cuts across the mid-section of the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

Canadians will see a partial eclipse starting at about 9 a.m. in British Columbia. Viewers must wear protective glasses to prevent damaging their eyes.

Numerous viewing events are being held across Canada including at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition grounds, the University of Calgary, the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina, and at Victoria’s Royal B.C. Museum.

Toronto will see a 70 per cent partial eclipse, Calgary 77 per cent and Regina 75 per cent, the astronomical society says on its website.

Randy Attwood, the astronomical society’s executive director, said he is part of a tour group of about 200 people from the Toronto area heading for Wyoming to view the eclipse. This will be his 10th total solar eclipse.

“Some of the places I’ve seen eclipses I never would have gone, visited ever, except for the eclipse,” said Attwood, who added that his eclipse experience in the remote fishing village of Hula, Papua New Guinea, turned into his real-life honeymoon.

Attwood described witnessing and chasing a total eclipse as being at a performance of your favourite entertainer while others don’t have tickets.

“Everyone who is seeing a partial eclipse, they are standing outside of the auditorium and they can barely hear the concert,” he said. “It’s just not the same.”

Jack Newton of Osoyoos, B.C., said the lure of a total solar eclipse is too strong for him to miss.

The amateur astronomy buff, who operates a bed-and-breakfast that caters to star gazers, is shutting his business down for five days to drive to Wyoming.

“Thousands of dollars we’re going to lose, but it’s worth it,” Newton said. “It’s that exciting.”

He said he will view the total eclipse from a ranch in Jackson, near Yellowstone National Park, where the area guarantees a better than 50 per cent chance of clear skies.

“Hundreds of people are heading south,” Newton said. “Accommodation has been sold out for over a year for every motel in the United States in the centre path (of the eclipse).”

Newton said he’s been to Siberia, Indonesia, Mexico and Baker Lake, N.W.T., to view total eclipses. Monday’s will be his seventh.

“If you are on the centre band everything gets dark … and the stars show up in the sky and the huge corona around the sun lights up,” he said. “It’s about four or five times bigger than the sun, and it’s just breathtaking to see that. It’s heart stopping.”

Carr said people are not satisfied with seeing only one total eclipse.

“They collect them just like other people collect other stuff,” he said. “They collect eclipses. They want to go to every one of them that happens on earth.”

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