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Hundreds watch moon cross sun’s path over Saanich

Mount Tolmie offered local stargazers front-seat views of once-in-a-life-time solar eclipse
Rod Gillingham, Lisa Gould, and Colleen Payne were among the nearly 1,500 people who watched Monday’s solar eclipse from the top of Mount Tolmie. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Some 1,500 people made their way up Mount Tolmie on foot and bike Monday morning to watch the moon cover most of the sun.

When the moon blotted out 90 per cent of the sun at around 10:20 a.m., some clapped and cheered, as if applauding a performance in the theatre. Others simply stood in silence as they gazed through telescopes of various sizes, eclipse glasses, welding glasses, and viewers made out of seemingly every kind of cereal box.

They had trekked up Mount Tolmie to watch this cosmic ballet with their friends and family members, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, grandfathers and grandmothers to watch this cosmic ballet. Some watched their first eclipse, others likely their last.

Cam Finlay, 86, of Saanich was using a large pair of binoculars covered with a special filter to watch the moon creep in front of the sun. Finlay was living in rural Manitoba when he saw his first solar eclipse as a child in the early 1940s.

While he holds out hope for seeing the partial eclipse of 2024, he is also making the most out of this experience. “I don’t think I will be around to watch the next one,” he said.

So he was not going to miss this one, walking up Mount Tolmie part way with the help of blue ski poles. “I take full opportunity of living,” he said. “I have had a great life. I have been very fortunate.”

Much has happened since Finley’s first solar eclipse. Trained in geology and zoology, Finlay worked in the energy industry and as a naturalist for federal and municipal government. He and his wife raised three children and have seven grandchildren. In fact, one of his children and his family witnessed the solar eclipse in Oregon, parts of which lie in the path of a total darkening of the sun. “He will stop off here and fill us in what he saw,” said Finlay.

Saanich resident Steve Hickton and his son Connor experienced the path of totality in Amity, Ore. Father and son are avid astronomers and travelled specifically to Oregon to experience the solar eclipse, the first of its kind in nearly 100 years.

Getting to Amity was not easy. Eclipse chasers had booked up all hotels in the region long ago, leaving the Hicktons with accommodation in the Portland area.

So Hickton and his son rose at 3 a.m. to drive from their hotel to the viewing site, an elementary school parking lot, where they watched the solar eclipse with several hundred people. Like in Saanich, people clapped, cheered and hollered during the moment of totality, he said.

“It was kind of unnatural,” said Hickton in describing it. “You are looking at this black disk in the sky and you could see the corona,” he said. “It was incredible.”

While Saanich did not experience totality, Monday’s gathering on the top of Mount Tolmie had a unique celebratory feel to it. It was not boisterous, but contemplative. People could be heard sharing stories about their previous experiences with eclipses and people close to them. Others marveled in the science.

As the moment of total coverage passed, people began to file down Mount Tolmie. While the sheer number of people sparked some frustration between drivers, riders and walkers, as it had been the case on the way up, many appeared to be deep in thought, and one young couple, wrapped in blankets, held each other for what seemed an eternity, before descending down.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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