Tristan Drozdiak remembers the first time he saw the Milky Way in all its glory in the night skies above Elk Island National Park.
“It was honestly just breathtaking. It looked like someone had taken a fistful of diamonds, if you can imagine that, and crushed it and just spread it across the sky.”
Drozdiak, now an interpreter at Elk Island, has had plenty of chances since to enjoy stargazing at the park. He’ll be helping members of the public have some breathtaking moments of their own at Elk Island’s annual Milky Way Day this weekend.
The Sunday (Sept.2) event starts with an afternoon of solar viewing, crafts, family-friendly music and theatre performances. Evening activities include night geocaching and a visit from a guest speaker. From 9 p.m. until the late hours the park will have telescopes set up near Astotin Lake, with volunteers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada on hand to help out and answer questions.
“If the weather cooperates with us, it's going to be breathtaking,” Drozdiak said, adding that he expects to see people staying around until midnight or later to catch glimpses of the stars and planets. “There's going to be lots and lots of help around if you've never really come and seen the stars before.”
As part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, Elk Island enjoys lower levels of light pollution year round. People are welcome to bring their own telescopes to the park any time of day throughout the year -- Drozdiak recommends setting up in the grassy field near Astotin Lake for a great unobstructed view of the sky.
“There's just a ton of constellations,” he added. “It just blows your mind what you can see out in an actual dark space as opposed to the city.”
White light from phones and vehicles hinder night vision, Drozdiak said, advising that stargazers instead bring red lights to the park to see their way in the dark. He suggests using an elastic band to outfit a regular flashlight with red cellophane.
Visitors to Milky Way Day can expect to have some “wow” moments if everything goes to plan.
“We had that just this summer. I had the telescope out and showing some kids Saturn for the first time. And yeah, the exact same kind of reaction where they go, ‘man!’"
Check here for stargazing tips at the nearest national park.

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