Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve

Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve

Dispatch by Lena Desmond
Photos by Will Allen

Two things were against us: weather and permission. There we were, standing at the foot of Mont Mégantic, a 1.6 metre telescope up the road and just beyond the observatory’s locked doors; the moon just beyond the dense clouds. Each of us consulted our weather apps. Every one said rain. While the observatory dangled in front of us like a carrot on a stick, we weren’t sure we’d be able to get inside.

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Clear skies during our ride give way to clouds upon our arrival

Visiting Mont Mégantic’s ASTROlab was a moment we’d all been anticipating—our inner kids still clinging to the astronaut dream. The reserve was the first of its kind; the region holds the title of the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve as determined in 2007 by the International Dark-Sky Association. While I originally thought that becoming a dark sky reserve was simply a coincidence of geography—an area remote enough to escape city light—the title required much more human effort than I could have imagined. It was the ASTROlab that was largely responsible for orchestrating light conservation efforts and getting the surrounding towns on board to change their entire lighting infrastructure. In the area, which covers around 5,500 square kilometers, over 3,300 lights were switched out or removed entirely. Lights were changed from blue light to orange hues which are less intrusive to the night sky.

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Outside ASTROlab

With the surrounding community’s cooperation, the sky from anywhere around the Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve is pock marked by the universe, but for us star deprived city folk, we wanted to get up close and personal. We wanted to see the craters on the moon. And while beggars can’t be choosers, there’s nothing we won’t do for a phenomenal view.

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Mont-Mégantic casts its shadow as the sun begins to set

We broke for dinner to work out a plan. Again, the phones came out. Will and Andrew needed the shot. Dan and I wanted the view. It appeared it would rain all night, but the next day would be all clear. We all breathed a small relief. If nothing more, we’d see the stars. We were about to pack it in for the night, when we received the call of our wildest childhood dreams. Not only would we be able to spend the night from a cabin on the hill side, we would get an exclusive visit to the l'Observatoire populaire at night and a chance to peek through the smaller but still spectacular 61 centimetre telescope. We might be able to see Saturn too. Like kids before Christmas, we all went to bed early and eager, knowing we’d be on the stars’ clock tomorrow and perhaps with a reinstated belief that we should wish on stars more often.

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