Ice storm brings Brampton neighbours together in cleanup

A Brampton, Ont., street, left strewn with downed branches, came together as a result of the weekend ice storm that walloped Central Canada and the Maritimes.

Neighbours pitch in after storm leaves streets littered with branches

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Beth Hillhouse heard the branches raining down around her Brampton, Ont., home.

"Every 30 seconds or every minute and a half, there was a branch snapping and falling," Hillhouse said. "So we knew it was going to be a mess in the morning."

But what surprised the longtime resident of Hockley Path, a quiet crescent in the suburban city northwest of Toronto, was the community outpouring that followed.

It began with a group of about 10 neighbours, determined to clear the road left impassable by an overnight storm that dumped a mess of ice-covered branches all over the short street. 

“It looked like a tornado had gone through," Hillhouse said. "You couldn’t see any of the roads. All the driveways, the cars were all covered." 

Not one tree lining the street stood unscathed. Each one of the decades-old, 15-metre-tall trees looked sheared from about five metres up. Branches covered the road and dangled from still-intact trunks. Late the night prior, officers put up yellow police tape to block off the road.

Many neighbours worried about what might happen in the event of an emergency. A couple people on the street have disabilities and one woman is pregnant. 

“The fact is there are medical needs on our street, so we knew that we needed to get things cleaned up," Hillhouse said.

Instead of waiting for busy city crews, a few residents started cutting branches into manageable sizes and clearing them from the road. Soon, others trickled out of the warmth of their homes to help. 

“Some people were breaking up ice on the sidewalks, some people were shovelling driveways," Hillhouse said. "Other people that couldn’t help went to Timmie’s and got coffees."

At one point, nearly 50 people were helping out, including several children dragging branches to pile them up on the sides of the road.

One of the neighbours who came out was Bailey Parnell, a Ryerson University student visiting her father for the holidays. Though the family moved to the street 14 years ago, they knew few residents. That changed yesterday.

"As of two days ago, we didn’t really know most of our neighbours, but now I do," Parnell said. "And now when I go on a walk, I’m going to be saying hey to a lot more people."

Parnell wasn't the only one. Hillhouse knew some neighbours, but the ice storm brought out people she'd never met both from Hockley Path and those living on streets beyond who just wanted to help out. 

"I met neighbours down around the corner and around the other side of the street. Everybody was really friendly," Hillhouse said. “[It's an] unfortunate instance to meet all your neighbours but it’s nice that the neighbourhood, the street pulled together."

Within hours, residents cleared the street. Piles of branches still sit on the side of the street, waiting for pickup, but everyone can get in and out.

For Parnell, it's something she'll never forget — and she hopes others won't either, especially the children who lent a helping hand.

"I hope that they’ll remember that when they get older," Parnell said.

(Mobile users, click here to see Parnell's video of the damage.)