Ottawa businesses take stock and give back after tornado, power outages

Hydro One
Thunderstorms and high winds caused significant damage to the Merivale hydro substation on Friday. (Photo via Hydro One)

After spending 14 months carefully curing a single cut of meat in a specialized refrigerator, few things are less welcome than a weekend without power.

But following Friday evening’s storm, in which two tornadoes touched down in the National Capital Region and thousands of Ottawa businesses and residents lost power over the weekend, that was the exact situation Meat Press owner Etienne Cuerrier found himself in.

Cuerrier tells OBJ that his Hintonburg delicatessen, alongside most businesses in Wellington West, was without power until late Sunday evening. The two days without power cost Meat Press around 80 to 120 kilos of food, some of which had been curing for more than a year.

“We had a 14-months-aged piglet prosciutto that we’d just cut into when we restarted dinners three weeks ago. And it was amazing. We were really excited about that flavour. And then that's gone,” Cuerrier says.

Meat Press
Meat Press owner Etienne Cuerrier, seen in a 2016 file photo.

He says his team has been working non-stop since Friday night to preserve as much as possible. That meant rushing over to Hull and buying $200 of ice to preserve some of the cheaper cuts of vacuum-sealed meats. Cuerrier says phone lines were jammed up this weekend with people trying to get last-minute generators.

The aged selection suffered a more unfortunate fate. Meat that had been curing for four months ahead of the Christmas season was also lost, meaning he’ll have to adjust the anticipated seasonal menu.

“That was a bummer too. Because we can't redo that recipe in time for it to be ready,” he says.

On the bright side, Meat Press’s inventory was well-insured. While you can’t buy back time, Cuerrier says he had conversations with his insurance company when he set up the coverage to ensure they understood the investment that goes into cured meat.

He notes that while he can’t sell the piglet prosciutto, he’ll keep it for himself – a small consolation, at least, and a chance to learn a bit about the flavours. Cuerrier hopes to be open with limited service by Wednesday.

Pressing on

Other perishable-based businesses in Hintonburg, including bakeries and restaurants, were also hit hard by the storm. Wellington West BIA executive director Dennis Van Staalduinen says many businesses in his area opened despite the power outage to sell off what goods they had, hoping it wouldn’t go to waste.

“There were at least a couple dozen businesses that actually kind of just stuck it out and opened their doors and tried to keep service going through through the blackout,” he says.

In a familiar power-outage activity, he notes that yarn store Wabi-Sabi kept knitting through the disruption.

With power still out in a few sections of the city and cleanups underway, the City of Ottawa recommended residents stay home from work if possible. The federal government closed its offices and two local school boards cancelled class.

Hydro Ottawa, on the other hand, hasn’t taken a day off since the storm hit, working around the clock to restore power to the heavily damaged power grid. CEO Bryce Conrad compared the magnitude of the damage to the debilitating ice storm of 1998.

While the nearby neighbourhood of Dunrobin was among the hardest hit by the storm, tech infrastructure in Kanata ticked on. Paul Butcher, a partner at cloud-hosting provider HostedBizz, says the firm’s Kanata-based data centre was able to kick on its backup power and avoid any major service disruption.

While he acknowledges he comes from a place of bias, Butcher says cloud computing can provide businesses with extra resilience in the case of disastrous weather.

“If you've got applications that are critical to running your business, you really should be looking to move that to the cloud,” he says.

Business community rallies

Those with power over the weekend were stepping up to help strangers with a hot meal, an outlet to charge their phone or a shower.

Shawna Tregunna, director of digital services at Iversoft and head of the Ottawa chapter of the Founder Institute, tweeted a photo of pancakes saying she was cooking up hot meals all day.

"Come shower, eat, charge your devices, I don't need to know you, you don't need to ask, show up (bring Tupperware and I'll fill it up) and you will be welcome," Tregunna tweeted along with her address.

And Tregunna was by no means alone in her Good Samaritan efforts.

She said she had help with "tons and tons of volunteers, lots of donation offers, lots of offers to do delivery."

Erin Blaskie, marketing director at Kanata-based accelerator L-Spark, had the same charitable idea, tweeting out a photo of a pot of chili saying anyone without a hot meal could message her for her address.

Blaskie added that for self-employed people working from home, L-Spark would open the doors to its co-working space all week for those without power.

Businesses with power were also lending support through their facilities, including local Movati Athletic gyms, which offered complimentary day passes to those in need of a shower.

The Ottawa Senators hockey club set up a GoFundMe for disaster relief efforts, promising to match the first $25,000 in proceeds. The campaign sat just shy of $64,000 raised as of Monday evening.

Kanata’s Thinkwrap Commerce tweeted that it was dipping into its company “do good” fund to provide roughly $2,000 in support to the Kanata Food Cupboard. Van Staalduinen notes that the BIA will be focusing a great deal of its relief efforts towards the Parkdale Food Centre as the Thanksgiving season approaches.

– With reporting by the Canadian Press