CBC Digital Archives

Walkerton: 'A nightmare that won't end'

In May 2000, bacteria seeped into Walkerton's town well. The deadly E. coli then slipped quietly through a maze of pipes and into the homes of Walkerton, Ont. Unsuspecting residents thirstily drank the polluted water and bathed in their bacteria-ridden tubs. But soon after, they began experiencing common symptoms of infection; bloody diarrhea and throbbing cramps. Seven people would eventually die and another 1286 would fall ill. The investigation which followed exposed an alarmingly unstable waterworks system made fragile by government cuts.

media clip
"This is a very scary time we're going through right now," says Chris Trushinski, the owner of Mel's 49 Diner and Gas Bar in Walkerton, Ont. Trushinski describes an anxious and angry community. Trushinski, for one, is upset with Premier Mike Harris' budgetary cuts. He believes the reduced Ministry of the Environment has left the water supply vulnerable.

Residents are leaving town temporarily and those who stay behind are under extreme duress. Trushinski says that he boils the diner's water and has sterilized the diner but this has done little entice paying customers. Instead, Mel's 49 Diner has become a meeting place for people to commiserate. 
. Walkerton resident Charlie Bagnato, who was later elected Walkerton's mayor in 2004, recalled the tense mood in Walkerton. "It was like M*A*S*H," he told the Globe and Mail. "The choppers, you'd hear them whirring, taking off, taking somebody else down to London, and you'd just get chills. And it went on and on. You'd get four and five a day for weeks and weeks." - in the Globe and Mail, May 12, 2001

. A November 2001 study commissioned by the Walkerton judicial inquiry found that the town lost approximately $2.7 million in revenues between May 1, 2000, and April 30, 2001.

. On May 26, 2000, the Ontario Provincial Police launched a criminal investigation in Walkerton. Ontario Premier Mike Harris had long maintained that the Walkerton tragedy was the result of human error and was not related to government cutbacks under his rule. He insisted that investigations by the OPP, the Environment Ministry, the coroner's office and a Tory-led legislative committee would suffice. But on May 31, 2000, Harris reversed his earlier position and called a public inquiry.

. In June 2000, Ipsos-Reid conducted a public opinion survey of Ontario voters. When asked who they thought was to blame for the Walkerton disaster, 49 per cent of the respondents pointed the finger at Walkerton-area officials. Provincial authorities and the provincial government came in at 29 and 25 per cent of the blame respectively. Only four per cent of the survey sample said they believed Premier Harris was exclusively at fault.

The poll was based on a randomly selected sample of 1,000 adult Ontarians. Results are considered accurate to within ± 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult Ontario population been polled. (- Ipsos Reid)

. Cleaning up the town of Walkerton proved to be a mammoth task over the summer of 2000. Pipes were scrubbed and chlorinated water washed through the plumbing systems throughout the town. Five kilometres of water mains were refitted and replaced, and Well 7 was outfitted with a new filtration system. The total cost was $15 million.
Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: May 26, 2000
Guest(s): Chris Trushinski
Host: Dick Gordon
Duration: 7:10

Last updated: March 26, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Death on Tap: The Poisoning of Walkerton

In May 2000, bacteria seeped into Walkerton's town well. The deadly E. coli then slipped quiet...

Walkerton: Sentencing the Koebels

Walkerton residents discuss the criminal case of Stan and Frank Koebel.

Walkerton: The Koebels plead guilty

Stan and Frank Koebel have pleaded guilty and will not have go through trial proceedings. Some...

Walkerton: Criminal charges

The OPP announce criminal charges against the Koebel brothers but an angry Walkerton citizen e...

Walkerton: Safe drinking water legislation

Do Ontario's new drinking water laws go far enough to protect its citizens?

Walkerton Inquiry: 'This could've been preven...

One Walkerton resident says the blame fell rightly on the provincial government and the Koebel...