20 years later, Ottawa residents reflect on destructive ice storm

Twenty years ago, eastern Ontario and Quebec were hit with what Environment Canada later deemed the ice storm of the century, and now Ottawa-area residents are sharing their stories.

1998 ice storm downed trees, left some neighbourhoods without power for weeks

Ivan Garland says the "world changed" during the ice storm

5 years ago
Duration 0:48
Ivan Garland said that as "heartbreaking" as the storm was, it brought communities together.

Twenty years ago, eastern Ontario and Quebec were hit with what Environment Canada later deemed the ice storm of the century, and now Ottawa-area residents are sharing their stories.

From Jan. 5 to 10, 1998, freezing rain coated a wide swath of the two provinces with a thick coat of ice, toppling power lines, trees, utility poles and electrical transmission towers.

Through it all, residents worked to stay warm, hydro crews tried to tackle ice-laden trees and power lines, and the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in the largest deployment ever on Canadian soil.

Now, in 2018, we look back at some of your stories from those few weeks. 

'It sounded like a war,' farmer recalls

Ivan Garland, who owns the Garland Sugar Shack in Cumberland, Ont., said "the world changed" during the ice storm. Back then, his property was being used as a dairy farm.

"I remember quite well walking out of the house at two o'clock in the morning and the only thing you could hear was the trees crashing in the bush across the street," he said. "It sounded like a war, trees constantly crashing and falling, and you knew the damage that was happening."

"It was hard, but it's as if the world stopped and it was a total different feeling," he said. "Everybody got together and somebody needed something, everybody was there."

Hydro workers barely slept

In 1998, Erich Neumann was a power line maintainer with Gloucester Hydro, an organization that existed before amalgamation. He was on-call the night the storm began, he said.

"We got called out of bed to do this [job]," he said. "So we figured we'd go out, and in a couple hours we'd be back in bed. It didn't turn out like that."

While clearing branches from power lines in the Rothwell Heights neighbourhood, Neumann said branches were breaking off and dropping to the ground around them under the sheer weight of the ice.

Crews got very little sleep the first few nights of the storm, Neumann said. As the ice weighed more and more heavily on branches and power lines, the number of service calls kept workers busy for days at a time.

Ottawa Hydro's Erich Neumann reflects on the ice storm

6 years ago
Duration 0:48
Twenty years ago, Erich Neumann worked to clear ice-laden branches and repair power lines during the 1998 ice storm.

After days of freezing rain, the weather stabilized and the rain stopped — but the work wasn't done yet. Many homes were still without power, and the ice coating the trees meant that hydro workers were still working 16-hour days, Neumann said.

"People were so thankful, they were stopping and giving us coffee," he said. "Especially the farmers out in the rural areas who really need to have power to ... keep their animals alive."

Could it happen again today? Likely not the same way, Neumann said. Hydro infrastructure was much more vulnerable in 1998 because of the age of the system, he said. 

"We have a much more robust distribution system today."

Embrun restaurant overrun with workers

Maurice Lemieux said people flocked to his restaurant during the ice storm, making for a crowded few days.

Lemieux, who owns the Village Hotel and Restaurant in Embrun, Ont., said that in the days after the freezing rain started to fall, his dining room started to fill up with hungry residents, hydro workers and even military personnel.

Maurice Lemieux talks about his experience in the 1998 ice storm

5 years ago
Duration 0:52
Maurice Lemieux, who owns the Village Hotel and Restaurant in Embrun, Ont., says the hotel was packed during the storm.

Driving into the city to get groceries for his full house, Lemieux said he had a close call with a hydro wire one day.

"A big wire about an inch and a half [thick] fell right on the hood of my Jeep," he said. The hood of his vehicle was damaged, but he wasn't injured. 


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