2003 blackout saw 'everyone' become 'a bit of a hero'

Toronto residents recall the day 10 years ago when a massive power outage threw the city, much of the province and a large swath of the eastern United States into darkness.

'Complete strangers reached out to each other that day'

Margaret Petrik won't forget the day 10 years ago when she became Toronto's "blackout bride."

It was Aug. 14, 2003, days away from her wedding, and Petrik and fiancé Robert Smol were busy preparing.

As the wedding guests began to arrive at the airport, the massive blackout plunged Toronto, much of Ontario and a large swath of the eastern United States into darkness.

The couple recalls how family members, more than 20 of them, had to sleep on the floor of the their small house as hotels had to turn guests away due to a lack of power and running water.

In an interview Wednesday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Petrik and Smol described how they scrambled to alter wedding arrangements in a city without electricity.

Petrik, meeting many of her husband's family for the first time, greeted them at her door with a flashlight in hand. "I said 'Hi, I'm the blackout bride.' "

Smol said the family pulled together as his stag became a backyard family bonfire.

"Everyone was pitching in to help," he told host Matt Galloway. "We were sleeping in the kitchen and the hallway."

Shamez Amlani, owner of downtown's La Palette restaurant, feels the blackout brought out the best in Toronto.

When the power went out, he emptied his restaurant's fridge of food and beer and biked to a friend's house for a barbeque.

'Complete strangers reached out to each other'

During his ride through darkened streets, Amlani saw people directing traffic, sharing food in impromptu cookouts and checking in on elderly neighbours.

"It's almost as if ordinary citizens had capes hidden under their clothing," he said. "Everyone became a bit of a hero. Complete strangers reached out to each other that day."

In an effort to recapture the energy of that night, Amlani celebrates the anniversary of the blackout by helping to organize an annual gathering. Acoustic musicians come out to play and the lights are doused "to recapture that energy, that sense of community."

This year's celebration starts at Queen West and Callender streets in Parkdale at 8 p.m. and will be hosted by the Balkan folk band Lemon Bucket Orkestra.