Dunrobin rebuilds as families face Christmas after the storm

Dozens of families made temporarily homeless by September's tornadoes are struggling to maintain their Christmas cheer as they rebuild their homes and their lives.

Dozens of homes deemed unsafe after tornado tore through west-end community

This Christmas ornament was given to West Carleton families affected by the Sept. 21 tornado. it hangs on the small tree in the Gill family's temporary home. (Felix Desroche/CBC)

Dozens of Ottawa families made temporarily homeless by September's tornadoes are struggling to maintain their Christmas cheer this year.

The City of Ottawa issued 167 unsafe building orders in the wake of the devastating storm, forcing homeowners to move out until their homes are repaired or rebuilt.

In the hard-hit west-end community of Dunrobin, 56 homes were deemed unsafe. More than half have been demolished and the rebuilding has begun.

CBC spoke to four Dunrobin families about their hopes for the new year.

The Rousseau family

From left to right, Ben, Beckett, Jess and Emersyn Rousseau. The family hopes to move back to Dunrobin next year. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

It could be a year before Ben and Jess Rousseau and their children, Emersyn and Beckett, move back to Dunrobin. Their home was destroyed by the tornado, forcing them to rebuild.

The family has received donations of gifts, food and even a Christmas tree complete with decorations to brighten up their temporary home.

You live through your kids, and they're pretty resilient.- Ben Rousseau

"Christmas is really expensive, and we have all these strangers donating to the family and it's been great," Jess Rousseau said.

The couple's insurance claim has become mired in delays, which has been frustrating. They're expecting another child in the new year.

"You live through your kids, and they're pretty resilient," Ben Rousseau said. "You forget the day-to-day stuff and you just enjoy it."

The Gill family

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      When the tornado had passed, Tyler and Rachel Gill emerged from their basement to see open sky. The roof of their bungalow had been blown clean off.

      Since the disaster they've lived in a camper trailer, an Airbnb and now a rented duplex in Westboro with their two young daughters and dog.

      Their temporary home is furnished with a mix of donations, salvaged items and new pieces. But it was important for them to replicate their three-year-old daughter's bedroom. 

      "We could really tell our daughter was homesick. She missed her room and her bed, and that was really emotional for me. So the next day we purchased the same bed and toy box to mimic what we could," Tyler Gill said.

      The family will celebrate Christmas out of town, but they still put up a small tree. On it hangs a wooden ornament with the words "Dunrobin strong."

      The Nicholson family

      Todd Nicholson, foreground, speaks as his wife, Emily Glossop and their children, Gwen and Tate, listen. They hope to begin rebuilding in the spring.

      Todd Nicholson, his wife Emily Glossop and their twins, Tate and Gwen, are thankful to have each other this Christmas after losing their home in the tornado.

      Baking plays a huge part in how the family celebrates the holidays. Just last weekend, volunteers showed up at the door of the Nicholsons' temporary home with measuring cups, bowls and pans so the family could make cookies and cakes.

      Like dozens of other families in the area, the Nicholsons are searching for architects and builders to construct their new home.

      "The biggest thing we need to do is for us to help our neighbours," Nicholson said.

      The Johns family

      Tim Johns, with his twin sons, was one of the first Dunrobin tornado victims to begin rebuilding his home after it was demolished. He hopes to move his family back in a few months. (Felix Desroches/CBC)

      Tim Johns is currently living in his mother-in-law's basement with his wife and twin sons, but hopes to get into his own home within the next few months. The foundation has been poured and the frame will be up before the new year, he said.

      Johns had been working for Tomlinson construction for less than a year, but the company continued to pay him when he had to take time off after the disaster. Tomlinson also loaned him equipment to tear down his damaged home and provided materials he needed to begin construction on his new home.

      "We're moving forward, and it's a really good feeling. We didn't really want to do a winter build, but we wanted to get our boys back into a regular routine."

      Johns said he plans to help his neighbours get their homes rebuilt once his is finished.

      About the Author

      Judy Trinh

      CBC Reporter

      Judy Trinh is a veteran journalist with CBC's The Fifth Estate. She covers a diverse range of stories from breaking crime news to the #MeToo movement to human rights court challenges. Judy aims to be both critical and compassionate in her reporting. Follow her on Twitter @judyatrinh Email: