25th anniversary of ice storm brings back chilling memories for Quebecers

On this day 25 years ago, rain, freezing rain and ice pellets began to fall on southern Quebec, beginning five days of storm during which more than 100 millimetres of precipitation fell on the province, leaving millions without power.

More than 100 mm of precipitation fell in 5 days, downing trees and plunging millions into darkness

Soldiers on a frozen street.
Twenty-five years ago, nearly five million Canadians in southeastern Quebec, eastern Ontario and parts of the Maritimes were battered by three successive waves of freezing rain that began on Jan. 4 and lasted for five days. (Robert Galbraith/ The Canadian Press)

It was 25 years ago today that the freezing rain began to fall. 

On Sunday, Jan. 4, 1998, the weather system that would later be known as the ice storm hit Quebec. 

It has since gone down as one of the largest natural disasters in Canadian history. For five days, ice pellets and freezing rain fell on sections of the St. Lawrence Valley between Kingston and Quebec's Eastern Townships, dropping more than 100 millimetres of precipitation. 

WATCH | A look back at CBC's coverage of the storm:

CBC archival footage of the ice storm

3 months ago
Duration 3:51
During the ice storm, CBC News interviewed Hydro-Québec technicians, first responders and frigid Quebecers.

The ice accumulated on trees and electricity infrastructure, breaking branches and severing hydro wires and leaving more than 1.4 million Hydro-Québec customers in the dark — some of them for weeks. 

The storm caused billions of dollars of damage, killed 35 people and injured nearly 1,000 others.

CBC Montreal asked Quebecers to share their ice storm memories. 

People on bunks.
People bunk in the main lobby of a junior college in Ste-Hyacinthe, Que., south of Montreal, on Jan. 10, 1998, as thousands of people were forced out of their homes because of the cold and power shortage. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

François Laforge recalled walking along Pine Avenue and peering out on the city bathed in darkness.

"You could hear crashing throughout the mountain," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "It sounded like some kind of beast rampaging through the forest that you couldn't see and it was so pitch-black on either side of me, these huge crashes coming from the forest to my left. It was something out of a horror movie."

Shannon Conway had a three month old baby at home during the ice storm. Like more than 600,000 other Quebecers, she was temporarily displaced after she lost power. "We stayed the night at our place," she said, "and by morning it was clear nothing was going to come back on and it was starting to get pretty cold."

Power lines crumpled.
People look at a series of collapsed Hydro-Québec high voltage towers near St-Bruno, Que., south of Montreal, on Jan. 10, 1998. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

She went to stay with her father and, lacking a crib for her baby, came up with a creative solution. 

"We took one of my dad's dresser drawers and put some like padding down into it," she said, "and he slept in a drawer for the two weeks that we were out of our house."

Hal Newman, a former paramedic and director of Côte Saint-Luc emergency medical services, was working during the 1998 ice storm. On the first day of the storm, there were few signs that it would turn into a natural disaster on an epic scale. 

Soldiers cleanup after ice storm.
Soldiers began the cleanup operation in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., south of Montreal, on Jan. 11, 1998. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"There were some hints about what was coming, but the idea that we would be evacuating so many people and having to open up shelters, that certainly wasn't in the cards that first day," he said.

Newman recalled evacuating seniors in the middle of the night and seeing the community come together to support one another. 

Listen to his account, and others, by clicking the link below. 

Daybreak guest host Ainslie MacLellan speaks with Hal Newman. He worked as a paramedic and director of Côte Saint-Luc emergency medical services during the ice storm.

Naghmeh Shafiei was 11 when she moved to Canada with her family from Iran. 

They arrived in Montreal on Jan. 1, 1998, just days before the storm hit. 

Woman smiling.
Naghmeh Shafiei recalled seeing the power lines down and broken trees during the ice storm. Having only just arrived from Iran, it was a rude awakening to the violent power of Canadian winter storms. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

She remembers huddling by the fireplace with her cousins after the power went out — and stayed out for weeks. 

"It's really cold, it's really scary and I'm really bored," she recalled thinking. 

Though it does get cold in Iran, she and her siblings had never seen anything like the ice storm. 

"I had never seen that much snow before the ice storm," she said, "so I was excited about playing with it and then it kinda had a nice little layer of solid ice over it. I remember not really knowing how to navigate it, how to be outside without slipping or falling."


Matthew Lapierre is a digital journalist at CBC Montreal. He previously worked for the Montreal Gazette and the Globe and Mail. You can reach him at


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