Cambridge Bay catches eclipse fever
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 11, 2008
Educational events and social get-togethers were planned for the week leading up the total solar eclipse over parts of the high Arctic.
Vicki Aitaok, manager of the Arctic Coast Visitors' Centre, said the community had eclipse fever.
The day camp, for instance, decorated the community hall in an eclipse theme.
"They wouldn't let me in until Wednesday," said Aitaok, who was more than impressed when she finally caught a glimpse of their work.
"It was spectacular," she said. "They made the sun, moon and earth out of paper mache and had them hanging in a straight line on the ceiling."
On July 30, Murray Paulson, an amateur astronomer and collector from St. Albert, Alta., gave a presentation about meteorites to around 50 kids in the community.
Paulson spoke about the space rocks and showed off his prized possessions: two pieces of the planet Mars.
"The children asked a lot of questions and they particularly liked the touch and feel portion," said Aitaok.
All activities built up to the eclipse early Friday morning.
The hamlet ordered 1,500 eclipse shades to protect viewers' eyes from the sun when watching the event. By 1 a.m. on Friday, Aitaok was completely out of them.
More than 200 people showed up to the visitors' centre that morning before commuting out to a planned viewing location at Mount Pelly.
Among those waiting at the centre was Don Stacheruk from Burnaby, B.C., who had chartered a plane to view the eclipse from the air and had five empty seats. He offered them to residents.
"He was specifically looking for children who were good in school and interested in science," said Aitaok.
Josie Tucktoo-Lacasse and her 13 year-old son Hunter Tucktoo were two of the five chosen to go up in the plane.
Tucktoo-Lacasse said Stacheruk explained the whole eclipse step-by-step before it happened.
The flight was cloudy and hazy, said Tucktoo-Lacasse, and then all of a sudden the sun poked out and the eclipse began.
"We all went 'Wow!'," said Tucktoo-Lacasse. "We started clapping and yelling and screaming because we were so excited."
"It makes you feel small in where you are in this place in the world," she said.
Tucktoo-Lacasse said it was not until after the event that Hunter realized how lucky he was.
"We watched a story about the eclipse on CNN," she said. "Everyone watched it from the ground and I said 'See how lucky we were, Hunter.' It just dawned on him that he was really lucky."
At Mount Pelly, Aitaok estimated around 300 people from Cambridge Bay and across Canada climbed 650 feet to the lookout to watch the eclipse of the rising sun.
Aitaok said it was cloudy and windy, but said the eclipse was well worth the wait.
"Because it was cloudy, we couldn't see the moon passing over the sun," she said.
"However, we did see the gradual darkening and then almost total darkness for about a minute. We could see for miles - water shimmering all across the tundra. The darkness came and then we could see the shadow of the moon on the land, followed by a beautiful orange sky.
"Everything was peaceful and time seemed to stand still."
Later that evening, an event was held at the community hall for people to share their experiences.
Alan Dyer, editor of SkyNews magazine, showed a film and told an Inuit legend about the moon and the sun. This was followed by a family dance, which brought out more than 150 people.
There was one regretful incident that occurred during the week: one of Paulson's meteorites was stolen during the Wednesday presentation.
"I like to open my heart to children and show them these cool things," said Paulson. "If you spark an interest in just one child, you can make a difference."
He said the stolen meteorite was unfortunate.
"I guess that I was far too trusting," he said. "It is causing me to re-think my take on public outreach."
The total solar eclipse was the first over Canada since 1979.
The next one will occur over northern India and southeast Asia on July 22, 2009.
Tucktoo-Lacasse said she would like to check that one out, too.
"It's inspiring," she said. "You want to go to the next one and the next one and the next one."