Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You Could Still See The Nothern Lights Here in 1837

Aurora Borealis by F.E. Church
In 1837, Toronto was still a very small city. There were only a few more than 10,000 people living here. And since we were still decades away from our first electric lights, light pollution at night was absolutely not even anywhere even a little bit close to what it is today. So back then, when the Sun sent a stream of energized particles into the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere, as it likes to do, it was much much much much easier to see the northern lights. 

That particular winter, an English writer and feminist, Anna Brownwell Jameson, was living in Toronto. And in her diary, she recorded a particularly pretty description of what she saw outside her window:

"The Aurora Borealis is of almost nightly occurrence, but this evening it has been more than usually resplendent; radiating up from the north, and spreading to the east and west in form like a fan, the lower point of a pale white, then yellow, amber, orange, successively, and the extremities of a glowing crimson, intense, yet most delicate, like the heart of an unblown rose. It shifted its form and hue at every moment, flashing and waving like a banner in the breeze; and through this portentous veil, transparent as light itself, the stars shone out with a calm and steady brightness [...] It is most awfully beautiful! I have been standing at my window watching its evolutions, till it is no longer night, but morning."

You can actually still see the northern lights on the outskirts of the GTA on very, very rare occasions. There was a massive solar storm last October, and another in August of 2010, that created auroras seen by people around the Golden Horseshoe. But in the centre of Toronto, where our lights burn bright even in the middle of the night, it seems sightings are a thing of the past.


I've been reading Jameson's book about her time in Toronto, Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, which, obviously, is where I came across this. It's full of neat passages, so I'll be quoting from it some more, I think. And I already did once, here, in my post about Canada's first race riot. You can buy her book here or borrow it from the Toronto Public Library here.

The painting is by an American artists, F.E. Church. It really has nothing to do with Toronto, but you can learn more about it at the Smithsonian here.

1 comment:

  1. toronto is very beautiful, I'm surprised that you can see such beautiful landscapes in the city, must be all a dream watch