The Great Christmas Outage

Dark and cold Christmas

Wow, what an end to a year.  We’ve been a little reticent with the on-goings around here over the past couple of weeks.  Specifically, as we entered into the holiday season; we’ve missed sending out our latest creation for our holiday greeting and well wishes to our friends and family.  We will be rectifying that shortly (already have the headshots ready to load).

So, what’s been happening?…  If you are not aware of the massive ice storm and ensuing power outage, you were either in a nice warm house, with power or out of the country on vacation – if you happened to live in southern Ontario (eastern provinces got hit pretty hard too) then you know of what I speak.

Let me walk through the few days as we headed towards Christmas and the New Year.

Sat. Dec. 21st.

We had all heard the news and weather forecast with warnings to brace for the coming ice storm – expect 10-40 mm of rain. So, what could we do… not too much. By the afternoon, on the 21st, it had started to rain with the temperature bouncing around -1 to 0 degrees.  The snow was starting to get a crisp top layer and it was getting really slick out.  Felice and I had an annual function in K-W with friends. Given the outlook and how slick it was getting we made the decision not to go… turns out it was the right choice.

We ended up conforming to our Saturday night ritual with the boys, pizza, and a movie.  We all settled in for the night and began the movie. Wouldn’t you know it, almost halfway through the movie the power went out!  Lucky we had flashlights and lanterns at the ready.  We sat around, finished our pizza played a few card games by lantern light. We then bundled up for the night and went to bed. Hopefully, the power would come back on by the morning. Little did we know it would be 3 days later.

Sun. Dec 22nd.

We woke to a frigid house, the temperature inside had dropped to 14 degrees, not so good. Obviously no power.  Luckily we had our cell phones and iPads charged, we shut down the phones that we didn’t need in order to cycle them in play as the others ran out of battery charge.  Felice located the Hydro website and discovered that they had some limited information but nothing specific.

At this point I boiled some water on the stove and made some god-awful instant coffee, but absolutely necessary and worth the effort, and taste. I sat down and began to sip my instant coffee and take stock of our preparedness. It wasn’t looking so good. I wasn’t able to fill the tubs with water, but luckily we had plenty of snow and could melt it on the stove in a pinch, we also had the two cases of emergency water. The septic was just pumped in the summer so we were good there. The fireplace hadn’t been used in a few years so we were screwed there. The last thing I wanted to do was start a fire in a fireplace that hadn’t seen action in a while; wouldn’t be the smartest. The food in the fridge and freezer was the next concern; the freezer would be good for 48 hours, we keep it pretty full, the fridge, on the other hand, was starting to go.

Pretty soon after we got up Felice received a text from our friend Karen. Her husband was at Home Depot and had a few generators in his possession, did we have one and would we want one? We didn’t have one so our response was pretty quick – YES! We need one. I got in touch with Pat, Karen’s husband, and confirmed that we would take one. We now had to prepare to get out and over to Pat and Karen’s to pick it up.

I conscripted Liam to assist with clearing the car off. I knew it would involve some ice chipping but when I got out to the car I was amazed at how much ice was covering the car. The ice had encased the car in a 3-5 cm sheath, a cheap ice scraper from Canadian Tire was not going to cut it. Not to mention the ice scraper was entombed in the car. Now what? I tried to bang on the door and handle, with my hand, to clear some of the ice and get in.  Not a chance. I needed a soft mallet, which I did not have. Looking around the garage I found a broken hockey stick with a good tape knob on it – that would do perfectly! It was also long enough to get to the roof of the car too.  Back out to the car to bang the ice off. It took us 45 minutes to free a door and a few more to clear all the ice off.

The generator setup and powering the house

Finally, we were off to Pat and Karen’s to pick up the generator.  The drive over wasn’t too bad – four-wheel drive helps, however, it was still very slick and slippery on the roads.  What we were not ready for where all the debris and downed trees. On Hwy #7 there was a row of hydro poles that had been snapped in half. Incredible.  On many of the side roads, we had to navigate around downed trees.

We made it back without issue, got the generator set up and ran the lines to plug in the fridge and a small heater. Whew.

Liam had a hockey game scheduled Sunday evening but the power outage had affected the arena and cancelled the game.

Cheryl, Felice’s sister was hosting a Christmas Open house that afternoon so we decided to make the trek to Oakville (they had power) and take advantage of the warmth, food, and hospitality.  Len, Felice’s brother was also in town from Boulder.  His flat was down the road from us and was without power too.  He had popped over for a bit and then headed down to Oakville ahead of us.  It was late afternoon and the main roads were clear so it seemed safe enough to make the trip.   I powered down the generator and we left.

We had a great evening, lots of food, the house was warm, good company.  And our dog, Caffery, actually went to the bathroom.  I need to digress here, you see the dog had not gone either (#1 or #2) since the start of the ice storm early Saturday and we had started to get concerned.  We usually take the dog out to our backyard and walk him to the far back of the lot.  Since the ice storm, though the snow had become crispy, a real pain to walk on as I would break through he wouldn’t, he was also slipping all over the place.  Where I hadn’t broken through the snow was a sheet of ice.  By the pre-bed walk time on Saturday night I was no longer breaking through, the ice had thickened that much.  Caff would assume the position but then the ice would crack or a tree limb would fall and distract him from his business. This became the routine for the walks, assume the position, hear something, back to the house, no relief.  Anyhow relieved we were that he had finally relieved himself and taken a dump, but we had to travel all the way to Oakville for it to happen.

The ice is at least 5 cm thick here.  I can jump on it without going through.

Cheryl and Twane offered to have us (and Len) stay the night.  I was still concerned for the fridge, freezer and the pipes in the house and the temp was continuing to dropping.  Caff and I packed up and headed home to watch the house.  The boys and Felice remained in Oakville.

It was a pretty uneventful night. Gas the generator and cycle it between the fridge and freezer.  It was a good thing I went back as the freezer had started to thaw.  The house was 14 degrees and the temp outside was dropping.  The little heater I had was struggling to keep the main room heated and it was drawing a lot of power.  Took the dog out for our routine, assume the position, hear a sound, back to the house – no relief.  I set the CO2 monitor on the main floor and headed up for bed.  I slept in a hoody pulled up to keep my head warm. It did the trick along with the dog beside me.  The house was eerily silent and dark with the barely audible low hum of the generator outside.

Mon. Dec. 23rd.

Woke up early, about 5am, the generator is still going but it needs gas.  House is now 9 degrees.  I looked up the hydro site and it was much more detailed with maps of outage corridors and places where there was power. Luck had it that the gas station in Acton had power. I grabbed the dog and we headed into Acton for gas, a McMuffin and real coffee treat.

I hung around until lunchtime, actually got the house, one room at least, up to 10 degrees.  The forecast is for -20 tonight.  Not a good recipe for a house with no power.  I pack up, power down and head back to Oakville.

When I arrive the discussion turns to what we are going to do about Christmas morning.  We have no idea.  Twane and Cheryl magnanimously offer for us to spend Christmas at their house. This means the five of us, plus Len and Bubie and Zaidy. It’ll be a full house but what else can we do?

Uncle Len had taken Liam and Ry to do some last minute shopping and then would head back home to get more clothes and toiletries for another sleepover in Oakville. We figure that’s the best option so Felice, Quinn and I head home to get some presents (so Santa can make it) and some clothes.  We’ll smuggle the main gifts into Cheryl and Twane’s and deal with the rest later.  We still have to wrap some and get back to Oakville in good time.  I took the side roads back and it was Felice’s first look at some of the big damage.  We tried to capture some in the video below.

( the video is a little jittery but you can see all the trees down on the side and the hydro lines hanging almost to the ground)

The damage to the Lilac trees is pretty bad

The drive was slow but finally, as we progressed up the hill, on our main road, we noticed a Hydro truck working on some lines and as we moved further along the road we got excited to see street lights on.  We had power! We headed to the house.  It was a wonderful sight.  It must have been on for only a few minutes as we entered the house.  I check the thermostat and it was only at 10 degrees. But, we had power!

We started to make the calls and let everyone know that we had power. We would be spending the night at our house and doing Christmas here. It was a Christmas miracle 🙂

Wed. Dec. 25th – We have power

We had Christmas morning in a nice warm house with running water.  Everything was good.  We had lost a few trees, some sleep but we came out of the disaster with our health, a Christmas we would not forget and we had power!

We were hit pretty hard but some of our friends and family in other areas of the province went without power for a few more days. It was certainly a Christmas to remember.

We’d definitely like to thank some for helping us get through it:

Cheryl and Twane – opening up their house to us for an extended stay

Karen and Pat – getting the generator and holding off the mob

Uncle Len – keeping the boys busy running around on errands

All those Hydro workers that dropped their holiday plans to come to the aid of the community.

Quinn enjoys the sun after the ice storm
About jasonbu 56 Articles
I'm a wannabe extrovert and an Interweb nerd who has spent the past 25+ years in the software industry. My first 10 years at Microsoft. I've served in the Canadian Military; I'm a humanist; I love coffee; love all things science and love spending time with my family.