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Eclipse expected to create largest Niagara Falls tourist influx ever

Mayor says about 1 million visitors could be there April 8 to experience total solar eclipse
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A view of Niagara Falls, Ont. is shown on Friday, March 29, 2024 in a photo taken in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Ontario’s Niagara Region has declared a state of emergency as it readies to welcome up to a million visitors for the solar eclipse in early April.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio

The chance to observe a natural celestial spectacle alongside one of the Seven Wonders of North America is expected to draw about a million people to Niagara Falls, Ont., for next month’s solar eclipse, the city’s mayor said Saturday as he urged community members to prepare for the largest influx of tourists in local history.

Jim Diodati says “all hands are on deck” from all levels of government, and first responders are helping the iconic southern Ontario city known for its waterfalls prepare for something they’ve never had to plan for on April 8 — a total solar eclipse.

“Seeing the great natural wonders of our planet, the Niagara Falls, with one of the incredible celestial events of the universe, a total solar eclipse, same place, same time is a magical experience and people are drawn to that,” Diodati said in a phone interview.

“Then right after, go get some food and beverages that the locals eat and take it all in and be part of a once in a lifetime authentic experience that only Mother Nature can put on.”

The rare eclipse is expected to be observed in Mexico first at around 11:07 a.m. PT, when the moon will move in between Earth and the sun before shifting towards parts of southern Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

It’s set to cast a partial shadow in several parts of southern Ontario, while observers in Niagara Falls — as well as the nearby communities of Hamilton and Grimsby — can expect total darkness for about four minutes sometime between 2 and 4 p.m. ET.

Astronomy experts have said the eclipse is unique because of both the spell of total darkness and the opportunity to see beams of light shooting out from the darkened sun that would otherwise be invisible due to the star’s blinding brightness.

Diodati said the Niagara region has declared a state of emergency so locals and visitors alike can be prepared for traffic and make sure to obtain eclipse glasses, which are necessary for safely viewing even a partial eclipse without risking eye damage.

“Make sure your car’s gassed up because roads will be jammed,” Diodati said. “Charge your devices. If you need medication, bring it with water.”

The mayor also encouraged people to travel to the region by train if possible.

He said the crowd of visitors — which is expected to include scientists from NASA and Canada’s Space Agency — is projected to be so large that the majority of the city’s hotels are booked and people are now renting out their driveways and backyards to those who want to camp out ahead of the big day.

Diodati said the last time the city saw its largest group of visitors was in 2012 when Nik Wallenda made history by crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

“We had around 150,000 people that day. It was unbelievable. It was for me the biggest event I ever did and we still talk about it 12 years later,” he said.I can’t imagine what we’re going to be saying about the eclipse. This event is going to make that one pale in comparison.”

Diodati said workers with the Guinness Book of World Records have also been invited to the event.

“We’re going to attempt to break a world record for most people wearing an identical sun costume,” the mayor said, adding the getups will be distributed to the thousands of people riding the iconic Hornblower Niagara City Cruises during the eclipse.

Diodati said drones, helicopters and a slue of first responders are expected to roam the city and will be in position near a live stage set to be erected next to the Falls. The Niagara Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to play music when the crowd is plunged into total darkness.

After the eclipse passes, Diodati said the city has invited Canadian bands to entertain the audience, a trick that safety officials have learned helps with crowd management.

“Everybody beelines to their cars, heads to the casinos, the hotels, the restaurants, and we don’t want that to happen all at once. So by having the bands, we’re hoping it’ll be a peel off effect of people gradually heading to their cars so that we don’t have gridlock.”

Diodati says the city has also invited internet companies to increase the bandwidth near the Falls so people can stay connected online or call their loved ones to enjoy the moment with them.

“It’s going to be really cool,” Diodati said.

“But I just want people to know to come prepared, be self-sufficient, bring everything you’re going to need for the day and be patient.”

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