Massive wind storm rips through Hiawatha First Nation's 1st powwow in 2 years

A derecho storm that battered southern Ontario and Quebec Saturday hit Hiawatha First Nation's first powwow in two years, injuring several people.

'It hit like a train wreck,' says vendor Sandra Moore

Brielle Paudash, 6, looks at a fallen tree as people in the powwow grounds begin to clean up after the storm. (Submitted by Olivia Monague)

The sounds of drumming and singing changed in an instant to roaring wind and screams of fear Saturday when a violent wind storm ripped through Hiawatha First Nation's first powwow in two years. 

The derecho storm that battered southern Ontario and Quebec with wind gusts recorded as high as 132 km/h swept through the community 105 kilometres east of Toronto just before 2 p.m. ET.  A derecho, pronounced deh-RAY-cho, is a long-lived, fast-moving thunderstorm that causes widespread wind damage.

Several people were injured, including a young girl who had her arm broken and face fractured from a falling tree, a man who had both legs and a few ribs broken and his daughter who had a concussion.

"There were about five or six serious injuries with good prognosis," said Hiawatha First Nation Chief Laurie Carr. 

The community is still without power, but has banded together to support one another through this unexpected disaster. 

"That's what the community does because they're neighbours and friends and family," said Sandra Moore.

Sandra Moore at her vending booth after the grand entry before the storm hit. (Submitted by Sandra Moore)

Moore, a member of Hiawatha First Nation, had a vending booth set up for Creators Gifts, her business that is primarily based online and sells fabric with Indigenous designs.

Being the first powwow of the year in the county, and the first in two years for the community, hundreds of people were in attendance. It was dedicated in memory of Paul Coppaway, who was a well known community member and one of the founders of the powwow.

The ground gates opened at 10:30 a.m. and the Grand Entry, which is when the drumming and dancing starts, was at noon.

Moore's husband and a friend took over cutting fabric for her while she was in the grand entry. 

People clean up debris in front of the drum arbour after the storm. The arbour's roof is laid with fresh cedar each year. (Submitted by Cindy Monague)

Around 1:30 p.m. she returned to the tent she was selling out of and went back to cutting fabric for about 20 minutes before the storm hit. 

"I remember saying to people that were there, 'There's something moving up there that doesn't look good,'" she said.

Black clouds were gathering in the northwest sky. 

"And then you heard the rain hitting the tarp, and then boom, it hit like a train wreck," she said.

"It was unbelievable."

Moore was one of the vendors with an extra large shelter, and it was filled with people looking for shelter from the rain. They were able to hold onto the support poles and keep it from flying away. 

Storm over quickly

The storm's peak lasted only a few moments.

Josh Musgrave, another community member, had been sitting under the drum arbour singing when the storm hit. 

"It was almost immediate, there really wasn't even much of a warning," he said. 

During the storm, Musgrave said he went from canopy to canopy telling people to get under the drum arbour where it was solid. 

He said some of the trees surrounding the grounds were blown almost parallel to the ground under the force of the wind. 

"The wind was so strong, when you faced it, you couldn't breathe," he said.

Dozens of tent canopies were thrown about during the storm. (Submitted by Cindy Monague)

Once the storm died down, people went to work gathering broken canopies and clearing fallen limbs to make the grounds safer. 

Members across the community also set to work clearing roads where trees came down.

The rest of the powwow that was to take place until 5 p.m. on Saturday and again on Sunday, was cancelled. 

Community maintains state of emergency

Hiawatha First Nation has extended a state of emergency that was never lifted from COVID-19.

Hydro One estimates there are still 29,000 customers in Peterborough County without power. This includes Hiawatha, which according to the 2016 census, had 155 households.

Aftermath of the derecho storm that battered the Hiawatha First Nation powwow . (Submitted by Cindy Monague)

Hydro One updates estimate power will be restored in Hiawatha Wednesday night. 

Meanwhile, the community has been preparing meals at the Gathering Space centre, which is being powered by generators. The centre is open 24 hours a day with access to showers and non-potable water for flushing toilets and cleaning dishes.


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.