I have been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights four times in my life. The first two times were by chance. The next two times, I went chasing the lights. The Northern Lights never cease to amaze me. They hold so much meaning for me, and I am in awe each time I’ve seen them in my life.
First time: the Northern Lights in Manitoulin Island
The first time I saw the Northern Lights was on my birthday. My family and I had just driven over Little Current Swing Bridge, and someone pointed out that there were lights. Excited, I looked up and the dark sky was showing vibrant purple waves (my favorite color). I thought it was very special to see the lights for the very first time, and on my birthday at that.
Second time: the Northern Lights in Wiikwemikoong
The second time was in the town of Wiikwemikoong. I was in the backyard of my grandparents’ house having a fire and visiting a friend. At about 1 am, I noticed a tint of green in the northern sky. It wasn’t a wave of lights like last time, but rather short bursts of green shooting up from the treeline. I figured it must be the lights because I’d never seen anything like it before.
Third time: the Northern Lights in the Georgian Bay
The third time, I saw a Facebook post stating that there would be a wave of Northern Lights reaching Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Excited and eager, I grabbed my camera bag and hopped in the car to find the most open field I could think of. Prairie Point popped into my head.
Across the waters facing north, I could see slight light pollution on the right, which I knew was the town of Killarney. Far beyond the treeline to the east and south of me was light pollution from what I guessed was Little Current and my community, Wiikwemikoong. I figured that facing north across Georgian Bay, toward the mainland, would be my best bet to see the lights.
During this time, I had been figuring out how to set the settings on my DSLR camera and testing out each setup until I got it where I wanted it. I am no professional astrophotographer, but I do enjoy stargazing and trying to capture the Northern Lights. This was the first time I had tried to photograph the Northern Lights, and it felt like I was testing my photography skills. I wanted to capture at least one decent shot.
Between 11 and 11:30 pm, a slightly faded green light appeared above the treeline. I knew it was the lights. I stood in the -25 °C temperatures with windchill, covering and uncovering my hands and face to protect myself from the cold wind. I played around with my settings, as anyone who is a beginner might find them challenging to get right. I stood out there as long as I could, until I felt happy with the shots I had. With time and patience, I had captured my first successful photos of the Northern Lights!
Northern Lights across the North Channel, Georgian Bay, February x 2019 | Photo Credit: Winona Ominika
Fourth time: the Northern Lights in Prairie Point
The fourth time I got to witness the lights was on the long weekend in August, during which I was capturing photos of the 59th Annual Wiikwemiikoong’s Cultural Festival for my summer placement with Great Lakes Guide. The festival included dancers, singers, vendors, and many people who had come from across North America for the festival.
Photo Credit: Winona Ominika
During my stay, I was also trying to be a hostess to an old friend from my years in post-secondary school. My friend had tagged along to visit my reserve for the weekend. We had chosen to stay at a family friend’s cabin located in Prairie Point.
During the night, I dedicated my time to astrophotography and tried to amp up my game. I noticed a big difference in the weather. It was much cooler, and I didn’t expect to see the Northern Lights any time soon. Still, because of the cooler weather, the lights appeared, first faded above the tree-line, then fully vibrant by 3am.
Photo Credit: Winona Ominika
What do the Northern Lights mean to you?
What I enjoy most is the challenge of capturing the night sky, and even more the challenge of chasing the Northern Lights. The spontaneous times I saw the lights were a blessing for me and for who I was with when I saw the lights. Seeing the lights is very special to me because it means so much to Indigenous cultures. The Inuit believe they are the spirit of the animals they have hunted. Other Indigenous believe they were the spirits of their people, celebrating, and serving as a reminder that we are all a part of creation.
If you ever get to experience the lights in your lifetime, for whatever it means to you or to others. It’s a great hobby and a good time to enjoy the night sky by yourself or with someone special.