'Torontohenge' sunset to be in line with city grid Saturday

Get ready for a spectacular site as the sun sets in line with the city grid on Saturday. The event — dubbed Torontohenge — creates radiant orange shadows down the street between the city's skyscrapers, as long as the skies are clear.

Last time to catch the phenomenon in 2019

A 'Torontohenge' occurrence in February 2019 casts long shadows on John Street in downtown Toronto. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Torontonians could witness special sunsets this weekend if the weather conditions are favourable.

"Torontohenge" is a term that's used when a sunrise or sunset is in line with the city's grid. The "henge" part of the term is a reference to England's famous Stonehenge, which was built thousands of years ago so the rising sun would align in a specific way during the summer solstice.

The phenomenon creates radiant orange light shining between Toronto's skyscrapers and a long shadow effect down the streets. 

The sun has been setting in similar positions all week, and Ralph Bouwmeester, a civil engineer who specializes in tracking the sun and shadows, says there are usually good photo opportunities leading up to the peak day.

"On clear days, for a week or two prior to that there are great opportunities for photographs where the sun is hovering above the street as opposed to setting directly in line with it," he said.

There's the potential for good photo opportunities on Sunday, as well — weather permitting. 

"It's such a neat thing in Toronto because of the downtown streets, with the canyon walls formed with tall buildings on either side. It's just a unique sight to see the sun setting in between those rows of buildings."

Bouwmeester, who prepares shadow studies for proposed highrises and skyscrapers, says the sun sets and rises in different locations each day, and "when the sun happens to rise or set in line with the direction of the main street grid in Toronto, which is 73 or 74 degrees east of north," is when the photo opportunites are best.

Bouwmeester says if you miss this one, the next Torontohenge will happen in February.

Snapping the perfect photo

Billy Luong, senior technical brand manager at Fujifilm Canada, says it is possible to snap a great photo of the sunset with a smartphone or tablet. But it can be difficult to fully capture the colours and shadows that way, so he recommends using a digital camera. 

"It's all about colours and that's what the big draw is. When you shoot toward a bright source of light, you also introduce things like flare, which can make the photograph very interesting."

He recommends setting your camera to shoot at its highest image quality, and also to be ready in position. East-west running streets lined with tall buildings, like King Street, will be good places to get a magical shot.

"You don't have too much time before you lose that lighting opportunity," he said.

Environment Canada suggests keeping your eye on the sky later Saturday evening. If skies are clear, Torontohenge will peak at sunset around 6:17p.m. ET.


Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.


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