The day 30 million people lost power
Massive Nov. 9, 1965 outage left millions in the dark on both sides of the border
Norman DePoe was sitting in front of the Newsmagazine camera explaining why the lights had gone out for millions of people, on both sides of the border, just a few hours before.
"Good evening, and a black Tuesday evening it has been in Toronto and many other cities in the eastern United States and Ontario," DePoe told viewers on Nov. 9, 1965, at the start of the broadcast.
"Power breakdowns at the height of rush hour stalled traffic and marooned thousands in elevators and subway cars, knocked out street lights, stopped streetcars and trolley buses."
Footage CBC News gathered from the streets of Toronto that night showed those same events occurring, just as DePoe had described.
Torontonians could be seen walking along dark streets, where the only lights shining were automobile headlights. Others, who included both students and businessmen, took to the street to direct traffic that had no streetlights to follow.
Similar challenges had been occurring in other parts of Ontario, as well, where the power had also gone out "in most of the major cities," DePoe said.
But the problem that began in Ontario spread well beyond the province's borders, helped along by the interconnected utilities in Canada and the United States. It would affect an estimated 30 million people by the time it was over.
Scenes from a blackout
One man who spoke to a CBC reporter in Toronto said there were people in his apartment building who spent more than a half-hour trapped in an elevator, as a result of the outage.
Other Torontonians still hadn't left the office when the power went out.
"I was stuck at work, in a dark office, and some kind soul came along with a flashlight and escorted us down five flights of stairs," said a woman with a bouffant hairdo, who spoke to a CBC reporter.
The blackout "made us more aware of how much we depend on electricity," said another woman, summing up the experience.
The Globe and Mail would report that the city's downtown area lost power on three occasions that night.
"Toronto residents seem to be taking it well," said the CBC's Tim Ralfe, when describing the situation on the streets that night to radio listeners.
"There have been no reports of looting and traffic has been moving fairly well, despite the lack of traffic lights."
South of the border
CBC also reported on how the blackout was affecting the United States, where the power outage stretched into the states of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and beyond.
The CBC's Knowlton Nash told viewers that the U.S. Defence Department had assured the public that its military bases had not lost communication and the Pentagon said those facilities had auxiliary power to rely on.
And he said U.S. President Lyndon Johnson had told officials "to speed whatever aid is necessary to the affected areas."
In New York, the blackout shut down stores, bars and John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The airport closure forced flights to be diverted "to places as far away as Bermuda," DePoe said.
Then there was that city's massive subway system, where the New York Times would report that some 800,000 passengers were on board trains when the power cut out during the commute home.
'Little disruption' in Canada?
Before the blackout, the Nov. 9, 1965 Newsmagazine program was supposed to focus on the results of Canada's federal election from the day before — the one that returned Lester Pearson and the Liberals to power with a second consecutive minority government.
Instead, the first two minutes of the broadcast were devoted to the blackout.
"Power returned in most areas several hours ago. The situation in the eastern United States is gradually returning to normal," DePoe said when wrapping up the summary of the blackout, just after the start of the Newsmagazine broadcast.
"In Ontario, there seemed to be little disruption aside from traffic jams and the wails of housewives who were trying to cook dinner on electric stoves."
He then said it was time to turn to post-election coverage "now that the lights are on again."
Newsmagazine then spent the rest of the broadcast talking with four MPs about what the next Parliament would look like.