Cities in the path of totality of the solar eclipse prepare for the crush of visitors

Niagara Falls and Montreal are the two most booked destinations for that weekend, according to an Airbnb report.

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Municipalities in central and eastern Canada have spent months preparing for an event that will last just three and a half minutes: a total solar eclipse that will leave parts of the country in complete darkness.

Many cities and towns in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are preparing to welcome thousands of visitors from across Canada and beyond in hopes of capturing a rare alignment of the sun, Earth and moon on the 8th of April.

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And the municipalities do not miss this opportunity to welcome a large number of tourists.

Visitors may feel like the busy travel season has arrived early, with hotels full and seasonal attractions such as live music performances and food trucks available before typical summer hours begin.

For Miramichi, N.B., the solar eclipse will be the highlight of the year’s tourist season, says Paul McGraw, economic development officer for the city about 180 kilometers northeast of Fredericton.

“We recognized the opportunity in early 2023, but then we thought, ‘How can we take advantage of this?’” McGraw recalled.

Miramichi will host solar eclipse-themed events starting Wednesday (April 3) and running through the weekend, with a drone light show, astronomy conference, music festival and innovation fair welcoming to 2,500 students from across Atlantic Canada.

The city, which has a population of about 18,000, has ordered 20,000 eclipse glasses, while leaving room for local businesses to sell equipment.

On eclipse day, enthusiasts can head to the Miramichi-Chatham Airport parking lot for an unobstructed view for free, McGraw said.

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“We have more than 800 (reservations) right now and we have a capacity of 1,500 (cars),” he said, adding that it is estimated that about 6,000 people can gather for the eclipse.

“It’s pretty optimistic.”

Elsewhere, demand and prices for hotels and short-term rentals for solar eclipse weekend have increased.

Niagara Falls and Montreal are the two most booked destinations for that weekend, according to an Airbnb report.

“This eclipse makes Montreal attractive, especially to those who live north of the path, so we expect to see more of this clientele on April 8,” Montreal public affairs spokesperson Aurelie de Blois said in a email.

In the Niagara region, many hotels are booked to capacity, with some charging up to double their usual price on the weekend. The city expects more than a million visitors during eclipse weekend.

“We have 14,000 hotel rooms,” said Janice Thomson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism. “Usually the hotels are almost full.”

He added that travelers had made reservations months in advance for the special event, while many locals from nearby regions are expected to come by train or car to attend the historic moment.

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There will be additional GO Transit trains to and from Niagara Falls that day, as the regional transit operator expects ridership to increase. It is also adding extra cars to its trains to accommodate as many people as possible.

Ontario is home to several other locations along the path of totality where the total eclipse will be visible, including Hamilton, Belleville and Kingston.

A boat trip on Lake Ontario during the eclipse is an option for visitors to Kingston.

“The 1000 Islands cruise doesn’t typically open this early in its season,” said Ashley Bradshaw, destination development manager for Tourism Kingston. “We typically don’t see our major attractions open until late May and into the summer season.”

Bradshaw added that Kingston hotels have also seen an increase in bookings since last fall, and are expecting visitors from Japan, England and Finland.

Port Colborne on Lake Erie, about 30 miles south of Niagara Falls, has set up tents to make the day an educational expedition for visitors.

The day will be filled with an inflatable planetarium with astronomical projections, telescope tours to observe solar spots and flares; and Let’s talk science with experts from Brock University.

“There really is something for everyone,” said Scott Luey, Port Colborne chief administrative officer.

“If you want to be on the lake, you can be on the lake. If you want to be in one of our parks, you can be in the park,” Luey said.

“We are in the front row of the event. “It’s a great place to gather.”

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