Ice Storm - Ready in the country

By Roxanne

I think perhaps it was a move from urban to rural that was largely responsible for preparing us for Ice Storm '98. I had come from Winnipeg and my husband from Hamilton. Both locations were sizeable cities with all the amenities. We landed in Kemptville, Ontario, a small town of 2,800 people. We had to learn about 130 volt light bulbs, power surges and power outages. Our first power outage was a good day long, in the fall, where we cooked dinner for the local church rector and ourselves on our little woodstove. This was a memorable occasion, which is also what the ice storm became. When the ice storm arrived we had two children, ages 10 and 11, and a little dog.

I think our major preparedness was to not rely on a single energy source within our house. We had always had a woodstove and were very excited to learn that natural gas was coming to Kemptville. So when the ice storm came, and the effects lasted one week, it was inconvenient to have no electricity, but it was not a major emergency for us. We had a gas furnace with an electric fan. It did not work at all. We had a woodstove for heat but it also had an electric fan. There was no way to circulate the heat so we had to localize the family into a few rooms. (We now have a fan that runs on woodstove heat, without electricity.) Our woodstove also has a removable grate on the top, which converts the top to a cooking surface. We also had a gas cook stove with electric igniters. The igniters did not work but a match did. We had no oven but what recipe can't be converted into stovetop cooking? The issues of heating and cooking surfaces solved.

Camping was the other activity that prepared us for the ice storm. We usually, and still do, keep a jug of water on hand - somewhere. Fortunately, the town of Kemptville kept the generators going at the pumping station so water was not an issue at all. The blessing was our purchase five years prior of a medium-efficiency hot water heater. It needed no electricity to operate and kept us and our dishes clean through the week.

The Bell Canada generators were also running 24/7 on the next street over. We could hear them through the eerie silence of an empty town. Our Bell lines kept us communicating with the outside world.

Food was not an issue. We had a deep freezer and a stocked pantry. We ate from the top of the freezer as the food thawed. Anything questionable was thrown out but a deep freezer only opened once a day stays surprisingly cold for a long time. We moved our fridge items to our conservatory, an unheated summer room. Food was then protected from wildlife. It was probably a bit too cold in the conservatory compared to a fridge but we all like the occasional milkshake.

A few of the local stores opened during the day for shopping. We went for fresh fruit and batteries. We were handed a flashlight, paper, pen and a calculator and were expected to pay cash at the end. I have always had candles on hand so didn't compete for the buying of those. The Armed Forces had a yellow ribbon tied to our door, meaning there were people in the house. They checked on us every second day and always seemed surprised at our level of comfort and cleanliness.

The best evenings were the ones where we bundled up and went for walks around Kemptville in the moonlight to hear the creaking of the trees and ice and to see the isolation of a town moved out. We found out later that local television stations had been warning people in our area to not walk at night but how were we to know? We had one battery-operated radio that we would turn on a few times daily to hear the news and then it would go off again to save our batteries. We didn't know how long it would be until power was restored.

We did not have a generator and have not bought one since. We found that we bonded as a family - playing board games, cards or talking in the evening. Our priorities in life adjusted to the situation that week. We ate well, were clean and warm. We had family and friends close by or with us.

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