June 19, 2021

Solstice Sunset and Montréal North

On the summer solstice, the Sun sets at "Montréal North"

The Grid

Like a lot of cities, Montreal's streets are lined up on a grid plan. But if you've lived here for a while, you're probably aware of "Montréal North", which isn't actually North at all.

I used to live in Edmonton, where the streets lined up north-south. So telling somebody to "head north" is a true statement.

Map of Edmonton showing the streets line up North-South

In Montréal, things are different. The streets do not line up north-south, but are tilted. Telling somebody to "head north" really means for them to head north-west.

Map of Montréal showing how streets are not lined up north-south

In fact, "Montréal North" is tilted more to the West than it is to the North. Let's get real pedantic and look at a compass...


A compass has 4 main directions on it: North, East, South, and West.

But we can get more specific and include directions in between each of those: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest.

Compass with advanced directions

But what if those directions aren't specific enough? What if I need to head just a bit more south of southwest? Would we call this South-Southwest? Possibly, but... there's a more precise and more sane way to do specific directions.

A circle has 360 degrees in it. Instead of using names for those directions, let's replace each of those with numbers:

Compass with numbers

With this system, basic directions turn into:

  • North = 0°
  • East = 90°
  • South = 180°
  • West = 270°

In the graphic above, those in-between directions are also converted into degrees in the circle:

  • Northeast = 45°
  • Southeast = 135°
  • Southwest = 225°
  • Northwest = 315°

So what if you needed to head "South-Southwest"? You could be super precise and say "I'm headed 205°"

There you go. Now you're a navigation pro, kinda.

What is Montréal North?

Now that we have a numerical system for direction, how many degrees is Montréal North?

To calculate this, you could use Google Earth Pro which offers a "ruler" tool to show your direction with numbers. For this, I'm using a fantastic app for photography called PhotoPills. Tools aside, I'm able to place a pin on the map and find the direction in numbers that the streets in Montréal are placed.

With this app, I've found that the streets in Montréal going "Montréal North" are 303°.

PhotoPills screenshot showing Montréal north is 303°

"Northwest" is numerically 315°.

So! "Montréal North" is closer to West than it is North. Let's see what that looks like on a compass:

Compass with numbers showing that 303° is closer to West than it is North

What an island.

Sunset Direction

As a rule of thumb, we say that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. This is generally true and I don't want to break that rule.

But throughout the year, the Sun changes exactly where it sets in the West. In the GIF below, I've shown where the Sun sets each month. 

Notice that in March and September, the Sun sets exactly West. This is during the Spring and Autumn equinox!

Then, notice where the Sun sets in June: it's at its most Northwest. This is during the Summer Solstice.

And for December, it's at its most Southwest. This is during the Winter Solstice.

As noted above "Northwest" is kind of a vague direction. Can we find out exactly the direction in degrees that the Sun sets on the Summer Solstice when it's at it's most Northwest? Yes!

Montréal Summer Solstice Sunset

Using Stellarium, I'm able to find out exactly which direction the Sun sets on the Summer Solstice. The real term we're looking for here is "azimuth" and in the bottom left of the app, it shows me it is 305° at the moment it sets on the horizon:

Stellarium screenshot showing the Sun setting on the horizon at azimuth 305° on the Summer Solstice in Montréal

Remember that Montréal's streets are lined up at 303°? That's awfully close to this number of 305°! What does this mean?

The Sun Sets at Montréal North During the Summer Solstice

The heading above says it: around the Summer Solstice in Montréal, the Sun sets at "Montréal North".

I had a follower of mine send me a photo they took from Park Ave looking "Montréal North" a few days ago, and sure enough, there was the Sun...

(thank you Hamish McConnochie for the photo!)

Park Avenue Sunset looking Montréal North towards the Sun

There's a similar effect in other cities, the most famous one likely being Manhattanhenge, or the Manhattan Solstice. Around May 23 and July 13, the Sun sets in the West.

Maybe we'll have to start popularizing this for our goofy, off-kilter grid here in Montréal.

Did you learn something new about Montréal North and sunsets? Consider tossing me a few bucks or becoming a monthly supporter so I can write more things like this!

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