Montreal

'It was really fun': Winter storm forces some Quebec schools to host makeshift sleepover

The wind was howling and the snow wasn't letting up Monday afternoon, so rather than risk a dangerous bus trip home, kids were camping out in schools with teachers serving as chaperones.

Hundreds of students camped out in schools as snow piled up outside

Firefighters and volunteers delivered sleeping supplies and food to some schools, while, at another, adults were able to walk to a nearby grocery store for dinner and breakfast. (Cimon Leblanc/Radio-Canada)

Hundreds of high school and elementary students on Quebec City's South Shore stayed at their schools overnight.

The wind was howling and the snow wasn't letting up Monday afternoon, so rather than risk a dangerous bus trip home, kids were camping out in schools with teachers serving as chaperones.

"As a precaution, schools on the south shore of Quebec City have made the decision to keep the children for the night to avoid risky bus trips," Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

"These schools are in communication with the parents concerned to inform and reassure them. All children are currently safe."

Several roads were closed in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, meaning students from schools like the École Beaurivage in Saint-Agapit, Que., about 25 kilometres southeast of the city, were sleeping on temporary beds. 

By Tuesday morning, nearly 200 schools were closed for the day in the Chaudière-Appalaches region.

About 100 other schools in the province were also closed, from Montreal's South Shore all the way out to the Magdalen Islands.

Spending the night at school

More than 400 primary and secondary school students had dinner at École Beaurivage. As the evening rolled into the early morning hours, parents were picking up their children as soon as they could access the building.

About 60 stayed overnight with girls sleeping on one side of the gym and boys on the other.

Saint-Apollinaire resident Olivier Blais arrived at the school the next morning to pick up his daughter who is in Grade 6. He said the roads weren't passable the night before and he is happy with the way the school handled the situation.

Laurence Blais and her father Olivier Blais weren't too fussed about the situation. Olivier Blais says the school handled it well and his daughter enjoyed the experience. (Radio-Canada)

His daughter said she enjoyed spending the night with her friends.

"We took out the mats and covers," said Laurence Blais. "So it was really fun. I really liked it."

Bernard Demers, principal of École Beaurivage, said it was a matter of safety as the school got word in the early afternoon that several surrounding roads were either closed or impassable.

The kids were well taken care of by their teachers, who kept them entertained and turned it into a fun overnight party with guitar strumming and singing. Meals, blankets and pillows were brought in to keep the students fed and warm.

The Commission scolaire des Navigateurs (CSDN) issued a statement Monday afternoon saying school transportation was delayed because of the weather. Parents were alerted to the situation at 1:30 p.m.

Parents were encouraged to pick up their kids if possible, but the school board, which covers Quebec City's south shore, said it would keep them as long as necessary. Students spent the night at several schools in the school district.

Teachers and staff made it fun for students who were sleeping over at the École Beaurivage in Saint-Agapit, Que., about 25 kilometres southwest of Quebec City. (Radio-Canada)

​The school board says that parents can pick up their children as soon as road conditions allow. School transportation has been suspended until further notice.

Strong winds in Saint-Isidore

About a hundred students from École Barabé-Drouin​ in Saint-Isidore, Que., also stayed on site for a good part of the evening.

The small town is surrounded by farmland, so some parents were able to come in by tractors and snowmobiles to pick their children up. About 60 stayed the night with at least 15 adults watching over them.

Plenty of parents and volunteers were helping out, bringing in blankets and pillows for the make-shift sleepovers. (Nahila Bendali/Radio-Canada)

Nathalie Poulin, the school's principal, spoke with CBC at around 8 a.m. She said there were still 25 students at the school and they had all been served a croissant breakfast after eating submarine sandwiches the night before.

"It was pretty amazing," she said after she learned kids wouldn't be able to get home by bus Monday. 

The municipality stepped up to the plate and offered plenty of help, she said. For example, she said firefighters stopped by with cots and, with a supermarket nearby, adults were able to walk over for food.

Blankets and pillows piled up in École Beaurivage thanks to volunteer efforts. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

"We're still full of adrenalin," she said. "We want to make sure the kids are safe and everything goes smoothly."

While the school is closed for the day, there will be adults present until the very last student gets safely home, she said.

 St-Isidore Mayor Réal Turgeon said there aren't a lot of trees in the area to serve as wind barriers. ​The area, he said, is well known for having a rough time when winter winds pick up.

"When we have strong winds and blowing snow, [roads] close very quickly," he said.

"I remember when I was a little guy, everything had been closed for three days."

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Kate Mckenna

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