People stranded by storm crashed at Walmarts in Ontario

Dozens of people spent the night in a Walmart store in Chatham-Kent, in southwestern Ontario, and a family of three is spending Christmas Eve in a Fort Erie, Ont., store due to a winter storm.

Store staff blew up air mattresses for people to sleep on, served hot meals from deli

Ontario blizzard forces shoppers to spend the night in Walmart

3 months ago
Duration 1:59
Dozens of people had to spend the night at a Walmart in Chatham, Ont., due the massive holiday weekend winter storm.

Dozens of people spent the night in a Walmart store in Chatham-Kent, located in southwestern Ontario, on Friday as a punishing winter blizzard closed the roads around them. At least one person who was stranded says the staff made it as comfortable as possible.

Store staff blew up air mattresses for the shoppers and served hot meals from the deli, says Heather Nickoli, who was en route from Ohio to Peterborough, Ont., with her boyfriend. Store workers also played music and gave people games to play.

A total of 50 stranded customers and 48 staff spent the night.

"It was a little shocking at first," Nickoli said Saturday. She had planned to stay in a hotel room in Chatham and stopped at the store first, but she said that as she was leaving, police closed the roads.

"I would rather be in a bed or hotel somewhere. But we all made the best of it," Nickoli said.

People sleeping on air mattresses in the self check-out area
Stranded shoppers at a Walmart store in Chatham-Kent, in southwestern Ontario, sleep on air mattresses in the self-checkout area while waiting out a winter storm on Friday night. A total of 50 stranded customers and 48 staff spent the night. (Judy Lagasse)

"Everybody was great. Everybody got along well. There were no problems. They made it very comfortable. They played music. They gave people games and stuff to play. It was very nice."

As for the Walmart staff, she said, "every single one of them were very pleasant about it."

The unexpected Walmart stay came as a winter storm pummelled much of Ontario, Quebec and other parts of Canada. Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued weather alerts for most provinces and territories.

In Chatham-Kent, which is on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie, there were multiple vehicle crashes, and motorists abandoned their vehicles on the roads.

The municipality has declared a state of emergency.

Nickoli said she entered southwestern Ontario on Friday morning, and when she arrived in Chatham, there was a detour on Highway 401. That's when she decided to get a hotel room, but she didn't make it there.

WATCH |Customers prepare to sleep on air mattresses at Walmart: 

Customers prepare to sleep on air mattresses at Walmart

3 months ago
Duration 0:17
Customers prepare to sleep on air mattresses to spend the night at Walmart

Walmart says about 50 people spent the night at the store. Staff supplied hot meals, air mattresses, pillows and blankets, as well as snacks for the kids.

"I think every single air mattress they had in the store they pumped up," Nickoli said. "Some people didn't sleep at all. Some people just stayed up and played cards games all night. But we definitely needed the nap, so we took a nap for a while."

People stranded at a Walmart set up air mattresses to sleep on in the self check-out area
People at the Walmart store blow up air mattresses. Store manager Judy Lagasse says people were anxious at first, but they settled in and worked together. (Judy Lagasse)

The Chatham store wasn't the only one where people slept at a Walmart. In Fort Erie, Ont., the retailer said, 10 staff have stayed to help a small family who is still stranded there on Christmas Eve.

The family, Walmart said, is being "kept warm, cosy and fed" — and even watching movies on a large-screen TV.

People sitting at tables eating and drinking at a Walmart
Walmart employees serve people meals at the store's deli while waiting out the winter storm for the night. (Heather Nickoli)

Judy Lagasse, the store manager of the Chatham-Kent Walmart who spent the night in the store, said neither she nor most of the staff slept at all.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, police told her they were closing the roads, she said, and within half an hour, the roads were closed. Lagasse said she learned at 7:30 p.m. that people would be spending the night in the store.

The staff fed people samosas, drinks and snacks. Two of the stranded people were toddlers, and the staff gave them crayons and colouring books. One of the staffers was celebrating a birthday, and everyone had cake, she said.

People were anxious at first, but they had positive attitudes, Lagasse said.

"Humanity," she said. "Humanity still exists."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at

With files from Carly Thomas


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