National Treasure #39: Northern Lights

Because the phenomena (sic) occurs near the magnetic poles, northern lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans in the western hemisphere, while similar locations in the east never experience the mysterious lights. However the best places to watch the lights (in North America) are in the northwestern parts of Canada, particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska. (Ed’s note: They mean “Alaska and the northwestern parts of Canada . . .”) – Northern Lights Centre

In Edmonton in the winter I’ve often seen smudgy green clouds along the night-sky horizon that provoked the question, “Are those northern lights?” followed by slightly unsure acquiescence.

In Saskatoon one summer in the 1980s I saw great glorious twisting green ribbons across the whole night sky that provoked no question, only awe.

In the True North–Yellowknife, Cambridge Bay, Inuvik–I’ve never seen them, summer or winter, worse luck.

But they’re part of our sense of ourselves, I think, whether we’ve seen them, no matter where we’ve seen them, and even if we don’t have a photo, dagnab it. The good news is that many others have fabulous photos of them.

And these, too.

Some people even have photos of them from the International Space Station.

Dagnab it.

This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.


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4 Responses to National Treasure #39: Northern Lights

  1. Barry Jewell says:

    The best that I have ever seen, unless my memory has exaggerated, were while laying on the lawn while a kid. At the house in Red Deer which was not in the country.

    The lights were multi-coloured, danced across the sky, and were accompanied by their own music.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barry – A kid might misremember, but so might anyone. I’ve never heard anything from them. You never saw them from an airplane?

      • Barry Jewell says:

        I have seen them lots of times from an airplane. However, the time that got imprinted was when lying on the side lawn.

        It always surprised me the number of people that had never seen them. Every time we had a good show we would call the Attendant forward and for most it was a first

  2. Isabel Gibson says:

    Barry – Those childhood impressions can be strong alright! It would be interesting to know what percentage of the population has seen them, even once. After all, part of our self-image is a “northern people.”

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