Canadian solidarity Part II

I have personally witnessed the level of organization and solidarity shown by Canadians in time of adversity at two distinct occasions – the Ice Storm of 1998 and the Blackout of 2003.

Ice Storm of 1998
During the first week of January 1998,southern Quebec and parts of southeastern Ontario were hit by an Ice Storm that is described by the CBC with these words:
“Canadians had never before endured a natural disaster like the ice storm of 1998. A difficult morning of car scraping quickly turned into a state of emergency from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec. Millions huddled in the dark by their fireplaces. Many suffered from hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Heavy ice sheets toppled huge power pylons and in just six days an electrical system that took decades to create was razed.”Hydro towers

The storm started on Monday Jan 5th, and I arrived in Montreal from Brazil on Wednesday, Jan 7th. My flight was one of the last flights in before they shut the airport down. We lost power on wednesday night and spent the next few days keeping the fire going in our fireplace, covered with sleeping bags, cooking potatoes on the fire and soups on a fondue pot. At some time on the second night a neighbour knocked on our door to ask if everything was ok and if needed any help. We were fine. The police & firemen were going house by house in Montreal to check safety conditions. Houses deemed unsafe for being too cold were evacuated and people brought to shelters kept warm by generators. Our local aquatic centre, home to Alan’s Master Swim Team, was turned into one such shelters and every morning we would drop by for a hot shower and a free cup of coffee. That was our only opportunity to connect with the neighbouhood and exchange news of what was going on. When we ran out of wood for our fireplace, the old lady living next door offered us some.

I was amazed by the level of organization to deal with the chaotic situation.

Broken treesOn sunday morning the neighbour across the street knocked on our door to tell us he just got power back and after warming his house for a couple of hours he would be happy to stretch an extension cord across the street to fire up our furnace as well. We were thankful and delighted by the offer. Before he could do it we too got power back. It was my first time in Canada during the winter. What an introduction!

Figures of the Ice Storm

  • 28 ppl died, many from hypothermia
  • 945 people were injured
  • Over 4 million people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick lost power
  • About 600,000 people had to leave their homes
  • 130 power transmission towers were destroyed and more than 30,000 utility poles fell
  • Millions of trees fell, and more continued to break and fall for the rest of the winter
  • Estimated cost of the ice storm was $5,410,184,000
  • Much of the sugar bush used by Quebec maple syrup producers was permanently destroyed. It was estimated that it would take 30 to 40 years before syrup production could return to normal.

Official site: Ice Storm of ’98

All photos from here.

Blackout of 2003

Toronto skyline in darknessThis massive power outage hit most of northeastern US and Ontario on Thursday, August 14, 2003. Deemed the largest blackout in North American history, it affected over 10 million people in the province on Ontario and 40 million in the US.

Since it was summer, the loss of power wasn’t quite as dramatic as the previous incident in Quebec. We lost power around 4:30 in the afternoon. Alan and I lived in a highrise in downtown Toronto, but we were ok since we lived on the second floor. Soon after the power went out someone knocked on my door – it was someone from the building’s tenant association asking me if I was ok, letting me know that since nobody knew how long we would be out of power that I shouldn’t open the fridge to allow it to remain cool for longer and that I should also fill up all the sinks and bathtub in case we ran out of water.
When it started getting dark, probably around 8:30-9:00 pm, someone else knocked at the door. They were going door by door checking on people to find out if they were ok, if they had candles or flashlights, and to instruct them on how to safely use candles. They also had a box of candles to give out to anybody to didn’t have any. I was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of them all.
Later on I discovered that people living on lower floors opened their doors to older people who lived on higher floors so they wouldn’t have to go up and down the many flights of stairs.
I went for a walk at some point and was amazed how carefully cars crossed intersections without any street lights to guide them.

CBC news on the Blackout.

A friend of mine once criticized a certain nationality for being “too organized”. She found that the excess of organization and order was too stifling. I disagree. I was very thankful for the organization I witnessed in the situations above.


Author: guerson

Historian. Teacher. Knitter. Passionate for bringing people together and building bridges.

5 thoughts on “Canadian solidarity Part II”

  1. I missed the Blackout because I was in Europe but Bobby told me it was amazing how people banded together to help one another. He and some friends had a huge bbq and then went to the local pub where everyone had a great time. I wish I had been around!

  2. It was amazing! Our building had a bbq organized by the tenants association for that evening. They started it earlier because of the blackout and opened it to other tenants who hadn’t bought tickets.

    I ended up missing the bbq because I stayed home waiting for news from Alan, who was stuck at work dealing with major crisis at Air Canada after their generator simply stopped working. (They spent the following year coming up and testing ad nauseam new disaster-recovery schemes after that one failed during the blackout…)

    At some point I went out to search for food. People were having bbq and drinking beer everywhere. I guess they didn’t want to beer to spoil ;) There was a general good mood in the air. It was really neat!

    Someone here was saying that times of disaster either arises the best or the worst in people and they cited New Orleans during Katrina as an example when there was widespread looting as well as acts of kindness.

    I agree in principle but to have a mass of people looting you need first to have a mass of people who feel excluded and angry. Because on the two cases I experienced in canada, there was very little – if any – of that. So I dont think it’s a natural thing.

  3. The headlines for the blackout in London (where I was at the time) were hilarious. One read “Canadians party while New Yorkers sleep in the streets”. I thought it summed up the differences between Toronto and new york quite well!! ;)

  4. hahaha, that’s too funny!! I don’t know what it is about Canada… I mean, even in Toronto, a city where 49% of the population was born outside of Canada, one can distinguish a certain Canadian quality on people’s temperament… do you think it rubs in? or is it the case that if you are treated well, you treat others well?…

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