The off-the-beaten-path faces and places of the total eclipse in Montreal | CBC News

While Montreal’s downtown may have been in the path of totality of Monday’s eclipse, it certainly wasn’t destination No. 1 for many viewers. 

Shortly after noon, streets near the city’s bridges began to fill with cars leaving the island for the viewing experience. 

Hundreds of thousands headed off-island — where they could see the eclipse outside of a busy city, free of skyscrapers and noise from construction crews — or to nearby landmarks, such as Sainte-Hélène Island on the St. Lawrence River, where activities had been planned for months.

Enya Astelle and her friend Josiane Neault danced to songs emanating from the car next to theirs on Ste-Catherine Street East, as they sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The two were heading back to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, about 40 kilometres away, after having travelled into town to pay a fine.

“We’re going to watch from the hot tub! My mom’s freaking out. It’s a really big deal for her. It should be fun,” said Astelle. 

But a city’s a city and the work never stops, so CBC decided to chat with the stragglers, the workers, the urban dwellers — who stayed in town, stepped outside and were delighted by what they saw, or didn’t give a hoot at all. 

two young women inside a car
Enya Astelle, right, and Josiane Neault wait in downtown Montreal traffic before heading home to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu to view the total eclipse from Astelle’s mother’s hot tub. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“For me, it’s like you would say in English: ‘No big deal!'” said Claudette Desmarais, who was running some errands downtown.

Sequins sparkled on the white ball cap atop her head, but Desmarais said she wasn’t a fan of the moon and the stars, or anything that people made too much of a big deal about, really. 

A woman on a downtown street wearing a sequined ball cap
Claudette Desmarais, who was shopping in downtown Montreal, said, laughing, that she would not be viewing the eclipse, calling it, ‘no big deal.’ (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Kamel Bousba and his two children, Yasmine and Massine, stood in line at a bus stop on St-Hubert Street, waiting to catch a ride to the science centre in the Old Port. For them, this was a big deal. 

“It’s rare to see the eclipse. My history teacher says it only happens about once every 100 years,” said Massine. “We learned that there’s only a 0.05 per cent chance of seeing an eclipse in your life,” his sister said. 

Bousba said he’d been lucky enough to see a total eclipse once before, when he still lived in Algeria in 2004. 

“My kids haven’t stopped asking questions about it. At the time, people were scared. But it was amazing. It’s really beautiful. It’s like the time changes, and becomes darker and darker and then bright as day again,” said Bousba.

a young family
Kamel Bousba, centre, and his two children, Massine, left, and Yasmine, right, waited for a city bus to take them to the Centre des Sciences to view the total eclipse. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Up the street, traffic signaller Carole Therrien sat on a little bench outside the construction site she was working for. 

“I don’t have any eclipse glasses or anything so I won’t be able to see it, but I didn’t really try anyway,” said Therrien, who would be working throughout the celestial event. 

When CBC visited her back at her post afterward, Therrien was with her colleague, Carole Proulx. The two had viewed it together and had a certain spring in their step. Still without glasses, Therrien had stolen a few glances when the eclipse reached totality, bathing the city in an eerie mid-day darkness. 

“It wasn’t bad. Pretty spectacular, actually,” Therrien said. Her colleague had a little more to say. 

“Everything went so, so dark all of a sudden. And lights went on in the buildings. People were yelling and screaming. It was crazy. It’s really something to see.”

two women in bright yellow uniforms and hard hats
Traffic signallers Carole Therrien, left, and Carole Proulx, right, appeared giddy after viewing the eclipse from their work post at St-Denis and Ontario streets. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

And despite the Eastern Townships region south of the city being considered one of the best places to view the total eclipse, there were a few for whom Montreal itself was the journey’s destination. 

Randy Enkin, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada and a past president of the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society, flew from Victoria, B.C., to experience totality on his wife’s parents’ rooftop terrace in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood. 

Enkin had planned to travel here since 2017, when another eclipse reached totality in Oregon but he couldn’t make that trip at the time. 

“The romance of it being over my in-laws house just made it, like, why would I go somewhere else?” said Enkin, who is a self-professed moon and astro-lover, and volleyed trivia questions from the group of family and friends gathered on the terrace.

“I call myself a selenophile, but you could also call me a lunatic.” 

A man in a red shirt and eclipse glasses peers at the sky
Randy Enkin, a geologist and astronomy enthusiast, flew to Montreal from Victoria, B.C., to view the total eclipse from his in-laws’ rooftop terrace. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Enkin runs a Facebook page called Enkin’s Daily Moon where he posts a new art image of the moon, and has been for the past 10 years. 

He points out that the moon is such a powerful symbol that he has found it enough in art not to have to re-post the same image twice.  

“Every culture has the moon as as a symbol, whether it’s of the feminine, the passage of time, knowledge. … There’s so many ways that people present it,” he said.

WATCH | This is what it looked like to view the total eclipse across Quebec:

Quebec pauses to watch stunning solar eclipse

In parks, on rooftops and in fields, Quebecers gathered to experience the awe- inspiring total eclipse together.

Two blocks to the east, a crowd of several hundred gathered along the pond at La Fontaine park. People sat on blankets up on a hill and along the edge of the pond. Children, freed from school, ran around and played but a muted excited took over as the sky grew darker. 

A jogger ran amid the crowd seconds from totality, making the most of her lunch break, she said. 

For several minutes, it was as if someone was slowly dimming the lights in a room, like some kind of a trick that also involved sucking out the warm air. Then dusk fell and people gasped and yelled and cheered and cried. Twice, pairs of Canada geese flew above the pond, honking at the skygazers and the sky.

A group of young guys appeared, screaming something about nightmares and the end of the world — a deliberate disruption — but they were ignored. A woman picked up something they had dropped on the ground and gave it to them. The crowd didn’t let them ruin their moment. 

Zahra Malki-Meam, 20, and her partner Malik Samuels, 22, watched from a little blanket, munching on snacks. They had looked forward to this for months. 

A young couple sit on a blanket on some grass in a parc
Zahra Malki-Meam and Malik Samuels opted to stay in town and watch the eclipse from La Fontaine park Monday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“it was really cool to see it with everyone around, like hearing people gasping and stuff,” said Malki-Meam.

The couple had at first planned to join the city’s main festivities at Jean-Drapeau park but, once they got inside the Metro system and saw how many people had had the same idea, did some quick thinking and opted to head for La Fontaine. 

“I think it was nicer anyway. We didn’t know how loud the music would be elsewhere. We thought it would be nice to be just, like, chill in a parc, nature vibes,” said Samuels. 

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