The Montreal Ice Storm of 1998
On the morning of
January 6th. 1998, residents of Southern Quebec, Eastern
Ontario and the Northern New England States awoke to find
themselves in the midst of a severe ice storm, the likes
of which had not been witnessed in recent memory.
At the height of the storm in
excess of one million households were without
electricity. Bridges and roads were closed. As Montreal
and the surrounding suburbs ground or perhaps slid to a
halt, Municipal, Provincial and Federal authorities
scrambled to meet the challenge and ensure the well-being
of those so adversely affected. Shelters were set up, the
army was summoned to assist the Hydro crews to
re-establish the power grid and additional crews of
linesmen and lineswomen came from other parts of Canada
and the United States to help. It was a time of
considerable difficulty and concern for everyone. My
sincerest thanks to all those people who gave a helping
articles in magazines and newspapers, as well as a huge
amount of news coverage on radio and television have been
devoted to tell the larger story of this storm. I will
describe only a small portion from the perspective of one
Except for the
photograph above, all photos on this page were all taken
on the fourth day of the storm within a two block radius
from my home.
We live in Saint-Lambert, a well
established community on the south shore of the St.
Lawrence just across the river from the city of Montreal.
One block away is the Victoria Bridge, Canada's oldest
major bridge that links us to the city. Saint-Lambert is
an older community with fully treed areas. Our street,
Union Boulevard, has large maples in the center and many
homes have large mature trees in their yards. The
Christmas season had just finished, the children had
returned to school the day before.
Christmas season had just passed,
homes were still decorated with festive bows and lights.
Early Tuesday morning we were awakened by
repeated dull thumping or popping sounds. The LED display
on the clock radio was not visible, and our bedroom was
occasionally lit up by a strange bluish light that would
sometimes turn orange.
We had seen this occasionally before,
the electrical transformers on the street poles were
shorting out and some would explode into a colourful
almost fireworks like display. From our bedroom window we
could tell that a fine freezing rain was falling and
freezing and that today, at least, would be an adventure.
Little did we know......
large mature trees dropped branches like falling leaves taking down electricity wires in their descent.
Two aunts from Scotland who had been visiting
with us for Christmas were impressed with the beauty of
the large ice accumulations on every branch and twig.
They took photos on the back deck as souvenirs to take
back with them. Welcome to Canada! what a story to tell
to the folks back home. I mentioned that I hoped the sun would
come out and shine directly through this ice. The
photographic possibilities were immense, heck, I might
get a few good shots for my web pages. However, the sun
did not peek through the dark sky and the freezing rain
just kept on falling. We proceeded to make coffee with water
I had boiled up outside on our Coleman camping stove.
telephone and video cables were no match for the ice
One aunt had received a windup
radio for Christmas. What an opportunity! We
wound up the radio, tuned into CBC, and listened as the
reports came in. This was not just a local occurrence,
throughout the whole region people had been cast in
The mayor of Saint-Lambert had declared
a state of emergency. The Victoria Bridge had been closed
due to ice build-up on the super-structure and many
streets had been closed due to fallen wires and broken
There was a concern that fire trucks
could not pass safely in case of an emergency. People we
advised to stay indoors. Hydro said that the power should
be back by this evening or tomorrow morning at the
On Hickson Street whole trees tumbled
down. Houses, windows and cars sustained damage.
Although people were being advised to stay
indoors, I ventured out on foot at first, I was amazed at
how severe the damage was! Every tree had sustained some
sort of damage, although the evergreens had fared
somewhat better than the deciduous trees. This was
serious, I thought. As I made my way gingerly over the
ice, the morning calm was regularly punctuated by the
sound of cracking and breaking branches. First there was
a sharp crack, then the clinking sound magnified a
thousand fold as the branch fell through the tree,
followed by a crash as it hit the hard ice layer on the
ground, then the sound of breaking glass as the ice
shards scattered in every direction. I kept my eyes on
the trees above so as not to be hit, all the while
slipping on the wet ice underfoot. An adventure indeed!
The soft rain kept falling, the ice
kept building, thicker and thicker. You could hear the
trees groan under the burden.
were blocked by the fallen branches. Driving was next to
impossible due to the ice on the roads.
Fortunately the airport was still in operation.
We managed to get the aunts who were due to leave today
to a bus connecting with the airport. Lunch today was
cold cuts, bread and soup heated on our Coleman camping
We stoked up the fire place to keep
warm as our old house was already loosing heat. Perhaps
the electricity would come back any time now we thought.
TV coverage would be quite interesting, we might even
make the news. Not to be. I missed my Internet
connection, CNN would have good stuff to be sure. We had
supper at a restaurant and decided that we would all
sleep in the living room in front of the fireplace. The
kids were keen, this was like camping indoors. We blocked
off the doorways to keep the heat in, bundled up in our
sleeping bags, kept our windup radio
wound and slept reasonably well.
began to move away by the second day. Cars full of house
plants, caged birds and bundled children were a common
The second day
was much like the first. A steady freezing rain kept
falling. The city organized shelters for those without
heat. Firewood was running low. My trusty chain saw
refused to work. The food in the fridge began to spoil.
The Coleman ran out of fuel and the Canadian Tire store
was sold out already. They were doing a remarkable
business in battery sales. People were buying up loads of
chemical fire logs.
I could see that we were not ready. The
children were sent off to relatives who still had power.
My wife and I spent another night in front of the fire,
Romantic maybe, but we were certain the power would be
back soon. We were fortunate to have a windup
flashlight so we could easily get wood from the
wood pile, even in the dark. It was cold in the house and
the freezing rain kept falling. Our sense of humour was
snow fell, then there was more freezing rain. The
attempts by the city to clear the roads resulted in huge
ice covered mounds. More branches added to our misery.
On the third day we moved the family to a hotel
downtown. The hotels were making space available for
storm victims at reduced rates. Many of the restaurants
downtown were closed because staff could not get in.
Those restaurants that could open soon ran short of
supplies. On the fourth day the situation worsened.
Several major electricity supply lines were down since
the pylons supporting them collapsed due to the weight of
the ice. Our home was now at around 42 degrees F.
I wore my winter coat indoors while I
stoked the fire. I would return two or three times a day
to keep the fireplace going and to water the dog. The dog
wore his woolen winter coat also, although he did not
seem to be adversely affected. He would sleep in front of
the fire place on a small warm bed we setup for him. The
tropical fish began to perish, there was nothing we could
do. I would chop what wood I could with my ax, but the ax
was dull. I could still make coffee on the fireplace. The
Coleman had frozen into a huge icy lump on the back deck.
We were not prepared.
ice load was so heavy that some trees just split in half.
Every tree sustained some sort of damage. Hydro poles and
transformers were knocked down.
The fifth day without power was sunny and
colder. Our house was down to 38° F, the last of our
tropical fish died. I would now return twice a day to try
and heat the house with the fireplace. Since I had
exhausted our supply of wood, I could go to get 10 pieces
of wood at emergency wood supplies had been brought in by
the City and the Armed Forces. The Army was conducting
house to house searches trying to convince people who had
remained in their homes to go to the shelters and the
emergency kitchens that hat been established.
At around midnight as I took the dog
for his walk, the city was nothing like I had ever seen
or heard before. There was an strange silence and the
only light was from the distant area of Montreal North
that lit the sky a dull orange. Everyone had moved out,
the city had been abandoned. Only a hearty few remained,
or had returned for a few hours to heat their homes. I
met my neighbour out walking his dog also. We stood and
talked in this eerie night, it was very strange.
City of Montreal's water filtration plants were down at
one point. Firefighters planned to use water from city
swimming pools to fight fires.
On the sixth day I realized that the battle had
been lost, with the house temperature at 35° F, I knew I
had to drain the hot water radiators so as to avoid
damage to the heating system. All the food in the freezer
and fridge was put into garbage bags for disposal.
The seventh day brought no reprieve,
The house was now at 33° F, we snuck the dog into the
hotel. The staff at the hotel turned a blind eye to all
the pets that had arrived with the other storm victims.
The provincial government announced that starting today
all those without power could get $ 10.00 per person per
day disaster relief. Hydro announced that it would it
would not be charging the daily service fee for hook-up
to its system. ($ 0.37 per day). We were all thrilled
with this news. The bridges to the city of Montreal
were closed, only the tunnel remained open. What was
normally a 10 minute trip would take one and one half
morning of the eighth day, as I had done each morning
previously I called our house. The answering machine come
It was over...
Only the clean up remained.
The cleanup continued into April, some
people in our area were without power till the end of
January. If the electrical lines to their homes had been
damaged, they had to wait for the HYDRO crews to hook
them up again. Electrical contractors worked 16 to 18
Many people sustained serious damage to
their homes from water leaking in due to the ice
accumulations. Two weeks after the storm, a huge sheet of
ice, 8 inches thick, slid off our main roof and punched a
hole in the roof of our addition. The eaves around our
house sustained damage also. All this considered we got off rather
lightly, some other people suffered much more than we