news was all bad for several days. We lost power on Tuesday January
6 1998 at 5:40am. The exact time is easy to remember because
that's what all our digital clocks read in our home for 12 days.
We got our power back on Saturday January 17 at 5:00pm. There were
people in the surrounding area living without electricity for more than
one month. At first, in my area it was just our road of about 10
houses - then it was the nearby highway - then it was the neighbouring
community - then it was Ottawa, then Montreal - then it was millions of
The purpose of this page
is to try to convey the sights and impressions of what it was like to live
in the middle of what has been called the largest natural disaster
in Canadian history. It is difficult to imagine that an ice storm
could cause more damage that the devastating floods in Manitoba in the
spring of 1997, but there are many more people involved over a much larger
of the photographs linked to this page were taken around my home, two miles
outside Smiths Falls, Ontario. The images are not as dramatic as
some of the news coverage of long lineups of people waiting for generators,
or of dead cattle, or of twisted transmission towers lying on the
ground, or of darkened urban cores, but they do show the everyday sights
of a large part of Eastern Canada. The unusual became commonplace.
has become a cliché to refer to the devastation caused by this ice
storm as similar to being in a war zone, but I think that trivializes the
destruction caused by war. While several deaths were been attributed
to the storm, nature is not nearly as effective at killing off humans
as we are. The narrative that follows is in the present tense, even
though the events are in the past. Whenever I think of the storm,
I think of the sights and sounds described below. They do not seem
too far away to anybody who lived through the experience. Somebody
once observed that "The past is never really the past; it is always with
strange sights wherever you look. Tree
under the weight of an unprecedented buildup of ice. Many are
broken, pulling down hydro wires, with branches
littering the ground. Ice is everywhere - on tree
trunks, rail fences, wire
fences, ornamental trees, even
coating the fence around a backyard pool.
The landscape is even more barren than usual
during a Canadian winter. Another unusual sight are hydro trucks from different
parts of the province - Markham, Waterloo, and most commonly, the green
trucks from Toronto.
have become experts on generators - size, quality, security, availability.
The best one are from Honda. The are reputed to be the most reliable
and run the most quiet. Homelite also makes a good product.
Some of the ones that are being sold, especially in some of the big-box
stores, are not designed for our climate. There are stories of some
exploding after a few hours of use. There have been many stories,
especially in the rural areas of stolen generators, some even while being
used. A local cable company lost two as they were trying to repair
the cable lines a short distance from my home. At least two local
have brought in generators from as far away as Texas for their employees.
They are being shared among the employees, and may be purchased at cost
when the crisis is over.
Most people now
secure their generators with a chain, since they have to be run outside
to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. One neighbour has his Honda
inside his fence behind his house; another has his Homelite
in his open garage. In both cases the generators are chained as securely
as possible. Many farmers in the area have generators that run off
a tractor. Some tractors have been running for over a week now.
people in the rural areas have some form of heat in their homes.
The most fortunate have gas fireplaces that do not require electricity
to run. Many wood stoves and fireplace inserts provide some heat,
although many are equipped with fans to circulate the warm air. The fans
require electric power to run. One neighbouring family has
a pellet stove that is providing sufficient heat for his home. Fortunately
they also have the needed generator required to run the fans and the augur
that feeds the pellets into the heating chamber
ice storm has led to the largest peace time deployment of troops in Canadian
history. Over 12,000 soldiers are dispersed across Ontario and Quebec
and Eastern Ontario. When they first began to arrive in the area, many
of us wondered what they could do. By now, they have established
their value in this crisis. One of their first tasks was to help
in clearing the roads of downed trees and power lines. They also
conducted a house-to-house survey in the rural areas to determine who was
still in their homes and what they required. If the people were managing
effectively a yellow ribbon tied to the
front of the house. If their condition changes and the inhabitants
need some help and they are unable to leave their home, they are asked
to replace the yellow ribbon with a red flag. Another function is helping
firewood for those who
can make use of it. When the line crews are working on restoring
power in an area, the troops remove the old line and move the new line
into position along the path of the hydro poles. Some of these lines
cut through heavily wooded areas.
TV, no computers, no VCR's, no CD's, no ATM's, no microwaves, no hot meals,
no school, no refrigerators, no cell phones, no hot water, no gasoline,
no Internet. The food in your freezer thaws while everything outside
the freezer gets colder. After a week a jug of water from your refrigerator
turns to ice overnight on your kitchen counter. It takes several
days to stop reaching for the light switch on entering a darkened room.
You probably never think about how fragile your daily existence has become.
How many candles do you have in your home? How many batteries?
How much non-perishable food do you have on hand? Millions of Canadians
are living through a very stark object lesson in which time is measured
in days between hot showers, rumours abound, information
meetings play to packed houses, and the most welcome sight is
a hydro truck.
Tens of thousands of families are digging out board games that everybody
has, but few play with in normal times - Scrabble, Monopoly and several
others. Card games are very popular, as are jigsaw
puzzles. Many people are determined to be better prepared the
next time such a disaster strikes, but we think of it being sometime in
the distant future. It could be the day after our life returns to
normal this time.
best book on the Ice Storm in Eastern Canada in January 1998 is available