Best place under the sun… and moon

by | Apr 9, 2024

Sun, moon, weather, and community cooperate for magical eclipse show in western New Brunswick

Thousands of eyes turned to the skies in Upper St. John River Valley late Monday afternoon, April 8, as the moon passed in front of the sun to deliver a total eclipse under clear blue skies.

Communities in the Upper Valley offered almost ideal weather conditions in which to view the rare celestial phenomenon. Visitors from around the globe joined community residents to cast their eyes skyward at viewing parties in communities like Florenceville-Bristol, Hartland and Woodstock.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Western Valley Regional Service Commission Tourism Director Barb Sharp, who worked with community representatives for several months to coordinate plans for Eclipse Day.

“I’m ecstatic today,” she said as she stood among the growing crowd at Potato World in Florenceville-Bristol early Monday afternoon, excitedly anticipating the pending total eclipse.

Between cell phone calls with officials overseeing several other viewing parties throughout the River Valley and Miramichi in eastern New Brunswick, Sharp flashed a wide smile as everything fell into place for a positive experience of the area’s first total eclipse in more than a millennium.

“This is the best place in North America to watch it,” she said. “It’s such a great vibe.”

Sharp said visitors arrived in western New Brunswick from across the world, noting hotels, bed and breakfast sites, cottages and camps have been booked for months. She said most had never heard of Carleton North, Woodstock or Hartland before the sun and moon converged for a few minutes above them.

She said she talked to visitors from India, Switzerland, and worldwide.

“It’s put us on the map globally,” Sharp said.

The corona during the eclipse, with the ‘diamond’ at the bottom. (RVS / Nancy Vidito photo)

New York couple Yong and Christina Hahn said the weather forecast convinced them to make last-minute adjustments to their eclipse plans.

When they first viewed the total eclipse path, which started in Mexico and ran diagonally through the U.S., parts of Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, they saw that Texas offered the greatest probability of clear skies and New Brunswick the worst.

“I think it was 90 per cent (chance of clouds) in New Brunswick,” Yong recalled.

As the big day approached, the couple noted weather forecasts predicted heavy cloud cover in Texas and other parts of the U.S. and Ontario but bright sunshine in New Brunswick. They decided to head north, crossing into Canada at the Houlton-Woodstock border crossing on Saturday, April 6.

The Hahns are glad they did. They not only got a clear view of the total eclipse but also experienced a part of Canada they knew little about. Christina said they visited Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax and even watched polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, but never considered western New Brunswick.

As part of the total eclipse experience, the couple joined hundreds of others behind the Amsterdam Inn and Suites, next to Potato World, to watch the long-planned launch of a weather balloon carrying a payload of computer equipment and telescope to provide a view of the total eclipse beyond cloud cover.

Florenceville-Bristol resident David Hunter, a retired physicist and long-time astronomy enthusiast, planned the launch for the last four years. After viewing a total eclipse in 2017 in Wyoming, he developed the balloon idea to improve the chances of an unobstructed view of the event regardless of weather when his hometown experienced the rare phenomenon in 2024.

After multiple years of planning and winds which would hinder the balloon launch, Hunter said the clear skies reduced the pressure.

As they prepared the launch site behind the Amsterdam Inn Monday morning, David’s brother, Lawson Hunter, one of the numerous members of the balloon-launch team, noted the growing number of media and spectators already gathering under the bright sunshine. He said that made for a great day.

“We already consider it a victory,” he said. “We wanted to make Florenceville-Bristol a destination and we succeeded.”

Anne and Mark Steeves of Kelowna, B.C., joined the many travelling long distances to view the total eclipse in Carleton North. The event provided Moncton native Mark and Carleton County native Anne with a ready excuse to visit home.

Anne’s brother James Blackie and his wife, Cecile, among the scores of volunteers helping out at the launch site and viewing area, happily hosted family members for the historic day.

When asked whether she would be visiting her brother if not for the eclipse, Anne responded with a laugh, “Not in April!”

Cape Breton native John Mercer, who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta, also travelled across Canada to combine viewing the eclipse with a family visit. Mercer, his wife Vida and other family members visited their sister Jocelyn Kierstead in Woodstock.

In addition to taking in the eclipse, they enjoyed the many community activities during the weekend leading up to Eclipse Day. On Sunday, April 7, Woodstock’s Eclipse Family Fun Day, they enjoyed live music in Sam’s Room at the AYR Motor Centre.

Mercer, Vida, and a few friends have become eclipse chasers, having previously watched a total eclipse in Montana and Hawaii. He said they planned to watch this one in Mexico, but they opted to head east when he realized Woodstock was on the total eclipse path.

He called watching a total eclipse an incredible life experience.

“You’re in touch with the universe,” he said.

Young amateur astronomer Vincent Martin had to travel only a short distance from Grand Falls to join others at the viewing area in Carleton North. Equipped with his eclipse glasses and telescope and wearing his NASA hat, Martin exuded excitement as he took in the rare astrological event.

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