Island’s one winter storm sees March in ‘like a lion’

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—After this weekend, most Islanders would probably agree that March most definitely ‘came in like a lion,’ dumping over 10 inches of snow across Manitoulin and knocking out power and telephone lines, but whether Mother Nature will cooperate or not with the rest of the bargain, going ‘out like a lamb,’ remains to be seen.

Snow began to fall fast and hard by 9 pm on Friday night in most areas of Manitoulin and come Saturday morning, the Island was blanketed with the white stuff, more than the area has seen all winter, and folks were struggling to climb their way out of their homes and driveways (if they even bothered to leave home at all).

Islanders, typically hearty souls by nature, seemed to make the best of the situation, which differed from community to community. Little Current and some other parts of the Northeast Town had their power back on by 9 am, while residents on the West End of Manitoulin, in Sheshegwaning and Meldrum Bay, had to wait until Sunday evening. There were those in the Evansville area who had to wait until Monday afternoon before their power was restored.

Robbie Colwell, manager of the Gore Bay Manitoulin Airport, explained that the airport is affixed with standby power in the form of a generator, so he was able to help the cause, fueling a Hydro One helicopter with jet fuel as they searched for downed lines and other obstructions from the sky. Meanwhile, at home on Nameless Lake, he and his wife and six-year-old daughter hunkered down and made the best of the storm, going without power until Sunday evening, a woodstove keeping the family warm.

Mr. Colwell said he heard a large maple tree in the Perivale area took out a hydro line, causing further delay to power being restored to the area. He said his wife and daughter enjoyed a wiener roast over the fire, with Mr. Colwell fashioning a toast rack out of a coat hanger while snow was brought inside with buckets and melted on the stove.

“My daughter, in her six-year-old mind, said she guessed the hydro workers were busy restoring power to everyone who really needed it, and since we have wood heat, we were fine.”

Gary and Robert Brown of Brown’s Bus Lines in South Baymouth said the community had its power back on by shortly after 9 am on Saturday, but received plenty of calls Monday morning from parents still without power, wondering if school had been cancelled.

“Power lines were down everywhere,” Robert Brown noted.

“We had so many bus issues it wasn’t even funny,” brother Gary Brown groaned. “We had one bus that wouldn’t even start and on another one, the transmission went.”

Christina Jones of Sheguiandah told The Expositor that a little propane fireplace and a camp stove helped her through the storm’s aftermath, with her power coming back on Sunday at 11 am.

“I just hunkered down,” she said. “I’m very thankful that we didn’t have rain because I wouldn’t have been able to turn on my sump pump.”

Ms. Jones said she’s worried about the rain predicted in this week’s forecast, as the snow was heavy enough as it was. “I wonder if we won’t have another power outage because of this,” she said anxiously.

When asked how she passed the time, she replied, “I ate soup, kept my freezers shut, put my head-lamp on, read, knit and listened to my battery-operated radio. It wasn’t real fun, but it was beautiful.”

“I feel bad for anybody who doesn’t have a secondary source of heat,” Ms. Jones added, noting that all her neighbours were covered in that respect.

Ms. Jones said she had to fill her bird feeder three times as close to 100 hungry birds kept a close eye on the free feed, more casualties of the storm. “My only path was the one shoveled to the feeder.”

When the power came back on, the Sheguiandah resident was so pleased she took herself to Green Acres for supper to celebrate. “I was tired of eating out of a frying pan!” she laughed.

Randy Thibault of Gore Bay is the chief organizer of the annual Porter Clark Purvis hockey tournament and the weather certainly didn’t make his already busy job any easier.

Tournament organizers waited patiently Saturday for the power to come back on and for tournament play to resume, but when the arena failed to receive power by the evening, the day’s events, including the annual dance, were cancelled.

Not to be outdone by the weather, however, organizers drew up a new schedule Saturday night for the following day, consisting of half hour, no stop-time games with shoot-outs for ties.

“We got quite a few compliments on how we handled it,” Mr. Thibault said, noting the sense of urgency made for better games.

The Lucas Little team of Gore Bay won the tournament, the biggest fundraiser of the year for Gore Bay Minor Hockey, a venture that this year will probably just mean breaking even.

“This has never happened in the history of the tournament, 30 years, and I sure hope it doesn’t happen again,” he laughed.

Hydro One told The Expositor on Monday that 8,500 customers were without power on Manitoulin and Killarney and as of Monday morning, 373 customers were still without power. As of Monday evening, full service had been restored.

The quick, heavy and wet snowfalls and high winds all contributed to multiple hydro line breaks throughout Manitoulin, and additional line crews came from Sudbury to assist local Hydro One staff in making repairs as quickly as possible.

Bonnie Bailey of Evansville was still without power when The Expositor talked with her late Monday morning. She said a little propane stove did nothing to heat the house, with the house at zero degrees Celsius before her brother and cousin rescued herself and her husband with a generator. Thankfully, Ms. Bailey’s pipes didn’t freeze.

“I think it was pretty extensive damage that Hydro had to deal with,” she said. “I think they would just get something fixed then find another tree down or problem with the line.”

“We’ve done a lot of reading,” she added.

Manitowaning, like Little Current and South Baymouth, was quick to have the power back on, with Andy Geib noting his power was back on by 9 am Saturday, just before he was set to make coffee on his propane stove.

Deciding to make the best of the massive dump of snow, Mr. Geib’s friends Ocean Trudeau, Ron Drysdale and Sean Wright headed over to his Manitowaning residence to make a fort in the backyard. He explained that a blue box was used to make the blocks of snow, with the men working at the project for almost two hours before the temperature began to drop and the snow wasn’t as easily packed.

Some residents of Wikwemikong, too, had their power on by 9 am Saturday, including Rosemary Wakegijig.

“I was housebound,” she told The Expositor of her weekend. “I guess I’m in a location where the snow really covered my cars, I just had to call off my usual guy who does the driveway with a four-wheeler snowplow and had to get a tractor with a bucket, and even he had a hard time.”

Some of her cedar tree had been destroyed too, she said, adding that “we can’t really complain as we got off pretty easy this winter.”

“I had plenty of visitors because I have a woodstove,” Ms. Wakegijig said, adding that she’s thankful she had made a pot of soup the day before, offering it up to neighbours on Saturday.

In South Bay, she reported, she heard the power wasn’t on until late Saturday afternoon. “I kept thinking about our elders and how they were doing,” she said.

“We need to caution people that they need to be prepared,” the Wikwemikong resident added. “I grew up in an era before hydro, so I know how to start a fire and cook with fire.”

“It was quite the storm,” she concluded.

Debbie Gosselin, proprietor of Mum’s Restaurant in Mindemoya, said she had to close up shop on Saturday as they didn’t have power, but re-opened Sunday to hungry crowds of stormed-in local residents and Hydro One crews.

Normally a very busy day for Ms. Gosselin, Saturday was spent reading and “trying to keep warm,” as her home is heated with propane, which runs with the help of electric fans.

In Perivale, Sheila McMullan didn’t have power until Sunday evening.

“It was pretty damn cold in here by Saturday morning,” she said, noting the 50-degree Fahrenheit temperature. “I just put layers of clothes on. It was warm in bed.”

Cold cuts in the fridge and dinner at daughter Shannon’s house on Saturday night kept her fed, she said, although the storm took away her appetite.

“Next time there’s any notice of a storm, I will not forget to fill pitchers and pails of water,” Ms. McMullan said, adding that pails of snow had to be melted by the fire.

“It was cold, very cold in this house, but now that the sun in shining and all is well with the world again, it’s a very nice place to live,” she chuckled.

Pauline Debassige of M’Chigeeng was also one of the lucky ones, with her power coming back to life by 11 am on Saturday. Ms. Debassige said she took advantage of the storm and stayed in bed until the power was on again.

In Silver Water, Joe Laford and his wife Libby said they escaped to Sudbury Saturday afternoon, staying the night and returning to a bitterly cold house on Sunday afternoon, still without power.

“The pipes were fine, thanks to good insulation,” Ms. Laford said. “It was horrible. When I went to bed (Sunday) night, the mattress was so cold I had to get up and put a felt blanket on top of it. It took until Monday morning for the house to properly warm up again. When we opened the cupboards, you could feel the cool air coming out.”

Joyce Debassige, clerk of the M’Chigeeng Wellness Centre, explained that a contingency plan kicked in over the weekend, with staff calling upwards of 30 ‘high risk’ elders in the community, making sure they were safe and sound, had somewhere to go if they needed or arranged for a ride to the Wellness Centre if they needed a warm place and food to eat.

“Some had wood stoves or oil stoves and chose to tough it out,” Ms. Debassige explained. Two elders took them up on their offer of a warm place and stopped in at the centre.

“Two days was enough,” she added. “People were getting a little rattled.”

In Meldrum Bay, Shirin Grover of the Meldrum Bay Inn explained that Meldrum Bay residents were without both power and telephone for the weekend, with both being restored early Sunday evening.

“We have elderly people here, including some who just came home from the hospital, and no phone or hydro,” she said. “It was pretty dramatic. But man, it’s beautiful. It’s absolutely stunning.”

Ms. Grover said this is the first time she and husband Bob had experienced such a dump of snow since moving to the Island five years ago. True to Island style, Meldrum Bay kicked into action, with neighbours going from house to house and checking on residents to make sure everyone was okay. “We’re never alone here, which is a great thing,” she added.

The Grovers have a generator, which helped them run various aspects of their home, but, she continued, “in spite of the whole drama aspect, I truly enjoyed it. No TV, no Internet, no phone ringing, it was great.”

“Friday night was just terrible, but Saturday was beautiful, Sunday was even better and today (Monday) was even more beautiful—it just keeps getting better!” she enthused.