Region prepares to host eclipse visitors
Story IAN STALKER / photography CHARLES DION
The tourism trade in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is clearly in a heightened position to benefit from a development that will truly be sky-high. April 8 will see a rare solar eclipse and the Eastern Townships — found east of Montreal — will be a prime viewing area for an event certain to draw widespread interest, says Lysandre Michaud-Verreault, spokeswoman for Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est, the region’s tourist board.
“The Eastern Townships is one of the only regions in Quebec that lies entirely within the path of the eclipse’s totality,” Michaud-Verreault reports. “It’s also strategically located in North America: When in the Eastern Townships, this rare spectacle can be viewed from the first International Dark Sky Reserve in and around Mont Megantic and in Glen Sutton, in the region’s second dark sky reserve. Few regions in North America can boast two dark sky reserves and facilities so dedicated to astronomy and sky observation.”
The eclipse will see the moon slowly pass between the sun and Earth, gradually obscuring the light until the sun’s corona comes into view with stars in a darkened sky, following the trajectory of a full solar eclipse. The rare spectacle is best viewed from the International Dark Sky Reserve in and around Mont Megantic, which covers an area of 5,300 square kilometres and was the first of its kind in the world.
“This means that people at any of the many region’s observation sites will be able to see the total eclipse for several minutes — like nowhere else in the province,” Michaud-Verreault says. “For example, even if Montreal and Drummondville are somewhere in the path of the eclipse, it will only be visible in totality for 45 and 28 seconds respectively, versus (the Eastern Townships destinations of ) Mégantic, Bromont or Sherbrooke (where the eclipse will be) 3.5 minutes.”
The last total solar eclipse in Quebec was more than 50 years ago and the next one won’t take place for another 80 years. The tourist board isn’t clear as to how many people will head to the Eastern Townships but notes the state of Ohio says as many as 550,000 visitors may arrive, while Arkansas is preparing for 1.5 million viewers.
“Recent eclipses, although not as phenomenal, have attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world,” Michaud-Verreault says. “We’re preparing for all potential scenarios. “The eclipse lasts for only a few minutes, so we’re inviting visitors to stay for a while longer to discover our beautiful region and the area’s many activities and attractions, or to come back during the summer or fall. Beyond the fact that a total solar eclipse is a rare and exceptional event to experience in one’s lifetime, and that to experience it in such a beautiful and strategically positioned region adds greatly to it, it’s also an opportunity for people from all over the world to put our region on the map and raise its brand awareness. and in particular to raise awareness of its starry skies.”
The Eastern Townships is around an hour from Montreal and shares the US border with Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. “We love to say we’re close to you, but far from ordinary,” Michaud-Verreault continues. “It is a land of astonishing beauty — a kingdom of mountains, lakes, farms, picturesque villages and vibrant cities, not to mention its unique Anglo-Saxon heritage… with a French flair. The area is known for its exceptional landscapes, world-class hospitality, flavours unique to its rich terroir and passionate craftsmen. The region is a year-round destination and a huge hub for cycling and other outdoor adventures, being also a foodie favourite as the cradle of viticulture in Quebec— producing over 60% of all Quebec wine — and home to over 30 micro-breweries.”
A number of local enterprises throughout the region are in the process of establishing the best viewing areas. Details and locations are listed on eclipsequebec.ca.
The tourist board has put together a number of itineraries that clients can tag on to their visit after viewing the eclipse, among them one featuring the Mégantic and Haut-Saint-François regions: Under the starry skies…
“What is there to see and do in the area? If you’re a nature lover, you can enjoy some spectacular vistas from Mont Megantic National Park, Mont Gosford or Station touristique Baie-des-Sables?” the tourist board adds. “The Parc régional du Marécage des Scotts and Sentiers pédestres de Chartierville offer several kilometres of hiking trails accessible to the whole family. In the mood for a road trip. The Summit Drive, located in the heart of the first International Dark Sky Reserve, offers a 193-km circuit of breathtaking scenery through Haut-Saint-François, Des Sources and Mégantic regions. On April 8, visitors will be able to contemplate the eclipse from one of the 36 inclined benches along the route. The Panoramic Sheds Tour combines road trip and contemplation. The nine sheds, or pavilions, spread over 150 km, are strategically positioned to offer the most beautiful panoramas of this mountainous and starry land.
The Coaticook Valley’s Mont Hereford is organizing a 13-kilometre, round-trip hike from the East Hereford parking lot to observe the eclipse from the summit of the mountain. That is reservation-only and there is a maximum of 250 people.
The tourist board says culture vultures will be spoilt for choice, with downtown Sherbrooke home to a number of museums — the Musée d’histoire de Sherbrooke, Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke, and the Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke. The Circuit des murales – a circuit of giant murals painted by professional artists, depicts scenes from Sherbrooke’s history – a novel way to explore the city’s attractive downtown. Sherbrooke has a number of inns and B&Bs such as l’Ile de Garde or le Marquis de Montcalm. In Coaticook, at Auberge du Changement d’Ère adventurous souls can stay in yurts or suspended “pods”, in a natural setting. Similar pods are also among the unusual accommodations offered by Mont Expérience Hereford.
The Eastern Townships attracts some 10 million visitors a year, accounting for 6.5 million overnight stays and tourism spend of more than $900 million annually.