Environment Canada meteorologist David Phillips says his favourite place for a 'magic moment' sunset is in the Saugeen Shores community of Port Elgin, shown here. 'It’s one of the places I most remember for its sunsets,” he says. Port Elgin boasts 10 kilometres of sandy beaches, the perfect open space for taking in those amazing sunsets. Port Elgin is located between the Lake Huron communities of Southampton and Kincardine, where, along with Sauble Beach, you will also find the right ingredients for the perfect sunsets. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Anderson)

Scientific evidence is in:
Lake Huron communities have best 'magic moment' sunsets

News Archive BY GARY MAY
The shore of Lake Huron is dotted with beachside communities that claim to be home to the “million-dollar sunset.” But is there any scientific proof to those claims?  

Apparently, yes.  

Environment Canada meteorologist David Phillips says weather and location are both crucial ingredients for an exceptional sunset. Clear skies, a dry atmosphere with no haze or smog, and an unobstructed view all play a part in the creation of that magic moment, Phillips says.  

And those are factors that come together more frequently along the sandy shores of Lake Huron in waterfront communities that face west.  

That means that the Lake Huron communities of Sauble Beach, Southampton, Port Elgin and Kincardine all have the right ingredients for the perfect sunset.

When pressed to name his personal favourite million-dollar sunset in Ontario, Phillips says he would choose Lake Huron's Port Elgin which, along with Southampton and Saugeen Township, make up the municipality of Saugeen Shores.  

“It’s one of the places I most remember for its sunsets,” he tells “People go there to see it. Because of the lack of obstructions, water is often a good place to be, to see a sunset. On the Great Lakes, we have more opportunities than most.”  

Phillips describes the ideal environmental and atmospheric conditions for an exceptional sunset as dry, smog-free air. “You’ll have none, or little cloud cover and the sun is often very red as it sinks toward the horizon. Those conditions produce a red glow. You look at it and you can’t believe how spectacular that disk is.”  

Clear-sky hours, westerly water view among key ingredients

He says statistics on hours of sunshine are maintained for 82 cities across Canada. During the key summer weeks of June 1 to Aug. 31, when lingering, warm evenings are ideal for enjoying the setting sun, the City of Owen Sound on Georgian Bay clocks up more clear-sky hours — 748 — than any other Ontario city on the list.  

While statistics aren’t kept for the smaller communities of Sauble Beach, Port Elgin, Southampton and Kincardine on Lake Huron, their proximity to Owen Sound makes it a safe bet they, too, enjoy more cloud-free hours than most, Phillips concludes. And with the wide expanse of Lake Huron laid out at their feet, it’s hard to imagine a better spot from which to sit back and enjoy nature’s show.  

Location, along with sunshine hours and clear air, counts for a lot, too.

So while Owen Sound benefits from lots of sunshine, its northeasterly view of Georgian Bay works against 100-per-cent enjoyment of that ideal sunset over the water. The same goes for Sarnia, at Huron’s southern tip, which clocks in at 640 sunny hours, ninth-highest in the province. Sarnia’s water view is primarily north, rather than in the ideal westerly direction.  

In fact, none of the Top 10 cities on Ontario’s sunshine scale enjoys that ideal westerly aspect over a wide expanse of water. Finishing out the list of top sunshine spots during the summer months are: Kingston, Windsor, Barrie, Peterborough, Oshawa, Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie and Guelph.  

Mike Smith, the mayor of Saugeen Shores, says he's delighted there's finally evidence of the town's claim of best sunsets and that one of Canada's top weathermen, who is high on Port Elgin, agrees.

"Our fabulous sandy beaches and great clean water contribute to the beauty," Smith told in a telephone interview from his home.

In Southampton, Smith says Chantry Island adds to the magic. "In the summer months when the sun dips behind the island, it's absolutely beautiful."

Smith says he has searched for evidence of a National Geographic article that supposedly was written years ago listing Port Elgin's as one of the world's most divine sunsets, but has never been able to locate it. "Maybe it's one of those urban legends," he says.

'People tell us they come here just to see our sunsets'

"I don't really know how you'd accurately measure these things," he admits, "but we've got our piper piping the sun down every Friday (during the summer in Southampton) and people tell us they come here just to see our sunsets. And now this. It's great."

There are many other waterfront communities in Ontario that are well-situated to catch the best of the day’s dying rays on a clear day.  

Here is a partial list of communities you can visit to enjoy a head-on westerly perspective of a water-view sunset: Grand Bend, Bayfield and Goderich on Lake Huron; Tiny Township and Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay; Colchester and the western side of Leamington’s Point Pelee on Lake Erie; Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines/Port Dalhousie and the western shore of Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario; and Belle River and Mitchell’s Bay on Lake St. Clair.  

Back on Lake Huron, Kincardine's sunsets are also laid to rest to the swirl of the bagpipes. The "Phantom Piper" serenades the sun from atop the landmark lighthouse at the inner harbour every evening except Saturdays during the months of July and August.  

The website provides a list of locations suggested for watching the sun slip below the Lake Huron horizon. Here are a few:  

Southampton: Millard Boulevard at the end of High Street, along the boardwalk or beach.  
Port Elgin: The harbour breakwall.  
Kincardine: Station Beach.  
MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Bring a picnic dinner to the beach.  
Inverhuron Provincial Park: There’s a kilometre-long beach where you can take a dip before watching the sunset.  
Point Clark: Head for the lighthouse for a different viewpoint.  

Environment Canada’s Phillips is a real fan of stopping to enjoy the sunset and says too often, we take the sky for granted. Despite all those many beautiful effects, we frequently treat the sky as “visual Muzak.”

And many miss a phenomenon that occurs the moment after the sun slips below the horizon, he says.   It’s called the “green flash” and it’s a result of the spectoral change of colour.

“It’s one of those magic moments. You have to be at the right angle. You don’t see it if you’re not looking for it. It occurs the moment the sun goes below the horizon and it lasts for just a couple of seconds.” — June 2010