La ville glacée

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On December 1st, I awoke as the blue fingers of dawn took hold of the eastern sky. Unable to return to sleep, I went to the kitchen and made myself a coffee. With bleary eyes, I watched the back alley as the night’s darkness faded into a mute grey. A few snowflakes began tumbling down from the sky, the season’s first.

Later that day, exhausted from my early morning adventure, I took a long nap just as the sun set. By the time I woke up, at about 6:30 in the evening, everything was dark. I could hear the groan of gridlocked traffic on Park Avenue, just outside my bedroom window, but strangely, no light was coming in from the street. A strange popping sound accompanied the grinding tires and car horns. I turned over, saw the iced-over window and realized what had happened: an ice storm.

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The power, of course, was out — Hydro-Quebec has enough trouble keeping the lights on when everything’s okay, let alone when every surface is coated in half a centimetre of ice. I grabbed a flashlight, put on my coat and went downstairs, gingerly descending the icy outdoor staircase. It was warm out and the ice was already melting, but a fierce wind was blowing. The ice-sculpture trees swayed back and forth threateningly as masses of clouds passed by overhead.

The traffic lights at the corner of Park Avenue and Bernard Street were out. Pedestrians and motorists from all directions negotiated their way through the intersection with surprisingly little conflict. Traffic in all directions was backed up as far as I could see; firetruck lights blinked a few blocks down Bernard. The eerie wails of distant police sirens floated by with the wind.

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As I wandered around Mile End and Outremont, avoiding those sidestreets without power, where the crack, whoosh and rumble of falling branches could be heard but not seen, I considered what it would have been like to live through the 1998 ice storm, which thrust Montrealers into a weeks-long nightmare. Power was cut to the entire island for several days — even the metro came to a standstill — there was no running water and the sheer amount of damaged caused by falling trees and ice prevented the city for functioning normally for weeks afterward. Nearly 10,550 military personnel were called into Quebec to rescue people, clean up and police the streets.

By comparison, this wasn’t even a real ice storm, just a minor disturbance (although the 911 service was inundated with nearly 7,000 cards in just a few hours). The power to my apartment was restored eleven hours after it went out, at 3am, as the wind howled and a firetruck raced down a Park Avenue, filling the dark street with urgent red and white light.

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This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday December 20 2006at 11:12 pm , filed under Canada, Environment and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “La ville glacée”

  • Alastair Taylor says:

    Just had one of those big wide world moments when reading this – whilst Montreal is snap frozen to perfection (pardon a pun for those who are familiar with the ad…), Melbourne melted overnight – it didn’t get below 30 degrees.

    Ice storm sounds good right about now.