5 Days of Freezing Rain…
On January 4, 1998, the freezing rain began, lasting five days, and Eastern Ontario and Southern Quebec were hit with over 100 millimetres of ice pellets. This storm became one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.
The heavy layers of ice coated tree branches which fell on hydro-electric lines, and soon almost 4 million people were without power, some for days, and many for several weeks.
Maple syrup bushes, some that had been part of family enterprises for generations suffered devastating damage as young trees toppled from the weight of the ice, and branches on older established trees snapped and fell to the ground.
Over half a million people, including seniors in long-term care, were forced from their homes into make-shift local shelters operating on emergency power backup. In some remote areas of Eastern Ontario, the O.P.P. went door to door, providing transportation to shelters making sure that none of the elderly were left to fend for themselves in the cold and the dark.
A state of emergency was declared in Ontario and Quebec, calling on the Canadian Armed Forces to assist in clearing the roads of tree branches and debris, aid in moving stuck vehicles, helping stranded families and assisting in the restoration of power and providing basic necessities.
“I can’t really believe what all that ice did to our trees”, said Mrs. Conboy, “Our whole property looks like one big brush pile....”
“Many people living outside of Perth were not able to return to their homes, and are staying at the Civitan Hall”
People Flocked to Shelters
Layers of ice coated the power lines
“Days?, Weeks? How Long? Even the Chairman of Ontario Hydro didn’t know.”
“Lanark reeve, Larry McDermott closed the village liquor store, saying it’s too dangerous a time to let people drink.”
“Harold Jordan of the Lanark County Fire Service said firefighters have found at least two people ‘semi-delirious’…”
“…severe ice storm that has left millions of Canadians without electrical power.”
Branches snapped and trees fell
“Mrs. Congreves lives on a remote country road in Lanark Highlands Township with her husband and three young children.”
(story continued below)
“Their home was warmed by a wood stove, which also served to heat their food and boil water.”
“The main roads were clear but some back roads were still closed due to fallen branches.”
“About 90% of Eastern Ontario’s maple trees have been damaged…”
“Many trees were bent like candy-canes.”
“Last night was the first night I got more than four hours’ sleep.”
“Fire Chief, Dave Smith, performed these same tasks in the Tatlock, French Line and County Road 511 area.”
“This courageous group of young men and women deserves our gratitude for the excellent job done.”
…And then came the floods
in the spring of 1998
“On Wednesday it was running under the bridge in the village of Lanark, but by the next morning the bridge was flooded.”
“Flower Station, Joe’s Lake, The French Line, Dateman’s Bridge and Bow Lake have been cut off by the water flowing over the bridges.”
“She got out on Wednesday, before the water rose around the walls of her house.”
“For three days, raging flood waters turned the residents of Flower Station into stranded castaways.”
“Rugs were floating, a rocking chair bobbed and the refrigerator heaved as the main floor of the two-storey house became part of the Mississippi.”
Flood Map April 5 1998
“Dave Willoughby paddles a boat over his front yard…”
Barb and John Baker
The Dean Family
Shawn and Preston Laming
Recovery was slow but steady, and gradually the damages caused from the ice storm and the floods that followed later that spring were restored. Many years passed before Lanark County’s maple trees fully recovered and operations in sugar bush businesses eventually returned to normal levels of production.
Stories of the ice storm have been told and re-told, and many of us have vivid memories of those days when ice coated everything outdoors, when our power was out, and in the coldest month of the year there was no heat nor light.
Many of us will also remember the special moments during those darkest times, when neighbours helped neighbours, and strangers became friends.
The days and nights of the ice storm and the spring floods of 1998 were some of the worst times that any of us had ever experienced, but we could also say that these challenges of a lifetime brought out the best in us all.