When the power went out in the Eglinton and Laird area at the height of the ice storm that walloped Toronto on Saturday, Dec. 21, Dave Sparrow instinctively knew the blackout would be a significant one. He soon joined his immediate neighbours to visit other houses along their street, knocking on doors to check on the occupants.
It was early in a catastrophic event that would wreak havoc on the city, leaving some 300,000 without power, some of them for as long as nine days. Already, two of Sparrow’s elderly neighbours were without hot water or heat, so he arranged a room for them at a nearby inn, then set to draining their water pipes as temperatures continued to fall.
By the next day their power was back on.
“It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” Sparrow would later say about his neighbourly efforts. “I’m sure people were helping their neighbours all over the place.”
Sparrow’s own family would be without power for some 60 hours. They were fortunate, though, to have gas heating and a gas-powered oven to prepare food.
Sparrow, his wife and two grown daughters were also well prepared, with charged flashlights, batteries and extra blankets.
“The first night was a bit of fun, the second night we started to feel a little chilly and the third night the temperature really went down, but then the power came back on,” he said. “We were fortunate.”
Nearby resident Becky White considers herself fortunate too.
Her husband cleared debris from broken trees in the gardens of two senior neighbours, then gathered with the family, which includes two grown daughters plus two older dogs, around the living room fireplace for warmth.
As the blackout dragged on, White says, they went through “bags and bags” of firewood, and were helped through the ordeal by the kindness of people, from immediate family to colleagues and even complete strangers.
White, who is a professional dog walker, was told by many of her clients who were away that she was welcome to stay in their homes. Had it lasted much longer, she says, she would have taken them up on their offers. Instead, she was the helper for one client family: emptying their fridge and turning on their water so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze.
White’s elderly mother drove up from downtown with boiled water in thermoses to make tea and provided warm, freshly baked muffins.
“It was like receiving gold!” she exclaimed.
A sister and brother-in-law supplied firewood, and had the family over for dinner on Monday. She also slept there one night, while another brother-in-law provided her daughters with beds and the use of bathing facilities.
After hearing her family’s story, a woman on the bus offered White’s older daughter the use of her stove.
The power was restored on Monday night.
Geoff Kettel’s family, which included relatives visiting from England, had no power for a week. It was restored on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 29.
But they had a warm Christmas, after a neighbour loaned him a generator on Christmas Eve.
City councillor John Parker, who had family over for Christmas, found his power-out situation exacerbated by a basement flood, which he says was unrelated to the storm.
“We went ahead with the celebrations amidst all the dark, cold confusion, and my wife managed to put on a good party in spite of it all,” he said. “I think in the Parker family it’s just one more in a long family history of challenging episodes.”
Parker was especially inspired by staff at the Flemingdon Park Community Centre, who had made a concerted effort to create a magical Christmas morning for the many children who had taken refuge at the centre overnight when he visited on Christmas Day.
“I think a lot of people remembered there are parts of the world where they would give anything to have the luxury of our problems,” Parker said. “Everyone was inconvenienced, but there aren’t too many people feeling sorry for themselves.”
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